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The Bad News For Daschle

Leo Hindery is becoming a bigger part of the Daschle story after this Politico report that Daschle lobbied Obama to tap Hindery for a prominent post--namely Commerce Secretary of U.S. Trade Rep--in his administration. (A side note: Has there ever been this much intrigue surrounding the Commerce job?) Why is this bad news for Daschle? Here's why: right now the odds still favor Daschle not only because he's so tight with Obama (and for the reasons Mike mentions below), but also because, as Matt Cooper noted yesterday:

The blogs are not on fire--yes, there's Greenwald, I know--but there's not pitchfork mob calling for his head of the size and scope usually needed to kill a nomination.

But Hindery's greater prominence could change that, because he's a particularly unpopular figure among liberal bloggers. Indeed, in some ways, Hindery was their first political scalp. As Ryan Lizza wrote in a 2005 article for us about Howard Dean's election as party chair:

If you've bothered to pay any attention to the low-wattage drama of the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), you probably know that Howard Dean is on the verge of winning it. But, during a three-month process in which many candidates and would-be candidates have stumbled briefly into the fray, nothing is more illustrative of how Democratic politics have changed than the fate of Leo Hindery.

You've probably never heard of Hindery, but he is one of the party establishment's longtime moneymen. In the old soft-money days, the cable TV baron could be counted on to write six-figure checks to the DNC. During the last presidential race, when his friend Dick Gephardt was getting torn to shreds by Dean, Hindery dropped $100,000 on TV ads tying the Vermont governor to Osama bin Laden. Hindery jumped into the DNC race in early December, noisily proclaiming the backing of Gephardt and Tom Daschle. He soon steered his private jet toward Orlando, where Democrats were meeting to kick off the chairmanship race. But Hindery never even made it inside the drab hotel ballroom where DNC members grilled Dean and the other candidates.

A guerrilla squad of Democratic bloggers had already gone to work on him, noting that he is an ex-Republican and that, even as a Democrat, he had given money to the GOP. Meanwhile, the usually irrelevant 447 members of the DNC--known simply as "the 447"--sensed a rare opportunity to take control of the selection process as never before. The members are generally local party operatives and activists elected or appointed to the DNC. Technically, they are the Democratic Party. But institutionally, they are hostile to Beltway Democrats, who they believe ignore them. And recently, they've been emboldened by the renaissance of grassroots politics. In previous years they swallowed hard and rubber-stamped a Terry McAuliffe or a Ron Brown, but the idea that a former Republican financier had been sent down to Florida by two defeated Democrats who had spent their last years in Washington watching the GOP take over the town did not sit well with the 447.

Hindery's aides, after scouting the situation, gently explained to him that he didn't have a chance. He turned his jet around and flew away. As Hindery's spokeswoman, Democratic consultant Jennifer Bluestein, said with more than a touch of understatement, "He recognized his best role is to remain a party fund-raiser." That night, in Hindery's abandoned hotel suite, a gaggle of Democratic operatives raided his mini-bar and mockingly toasted the death of his absurd candidacy: "To Leo!"

I still think the odds favor Daschle's confirmation, but the Obama people have to hope there are no other Hindery-related bombshells waiting to detonate.

--Jason Zengerle