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Democratic Civil War: In Two Weeks, Three Centrists Have Gone Down in Flames

William Daley, the former White House chief of staff, has just dropped out of the running for governor of Illinois. You’re forgiven if his campaign hadn’t even registered on your radar screen yet—his candidacy, against incumbent Governor Pat Quinn, lasted all of seven weeks.

Daley is the latest data point suggesting that progressive elements within the Democratic party are ascendant—and that they can claim electoral victims who even appear to be in the tank for liberal bogeymen. What doomed Daley so quickly, even though his opponent Quinn polls so poorly, were the attacks Quinn was launching with considerable gusto against Daley’s ties to big banking. Before public servant-hood, Daley had served as a Midwest chairman of JP Morgan & Chase Co.; he still sits on the board of companies like Boeing. Quinn’s opening was clear—tar Daley as consummate Wall Streeter—and that’s exactly what he did, calling Daley a “millionaire banker [who] helped drive the American economy into a ditch and created the Great Recession.” And: "We don't particularly need advice from people who created the mess in the first place."

Daley is not the only recent casualty of a prevailing liberal mentality. Earlier this month there was Christine Quinn, the mayoral hopeful who lost out to Bill de Blasio. The best explanation for her loss appears to be that he successfully claimed the progressive mantle at the expense—fairly or not—of her doing so. Daley is not even the first Democrat to watch his political future become repossessed on account of his ties to big banks. This weekend, Larry Summers read the tea leaves of Obama’s inability to find Democratic support for his Syria resolution and decided that in a fight over his expected nomination to Fed Chair, he would be the loser. Summers being the architect of some of the 1990s policies that coddled big banks, and lately, a consultant for outfits like Citigroup, it was another coup for liberals.

And while his dropping out doesn’t necessarily mean that Pat Quinn is the ideal liberal, Daley is the third indication that significant lines are being redrawn within the Democratic party. On Friday, I argued that the latest liberal-Obama crack-up—over Syria—is merely the endstage of yet another cycle of flirtations, reunions, and break-ups that plague liberals’ relationship with successive Democratic presidents. But that’s not to say that dynamic can’t change—and that liberals aren’t finding themselves with a little more leverage over Obama and others they perceive as centrists in the meantime.