Monday, September 10, 2007

US Rep. Bob Etheridge (NC-02)

Bob Etheridge, Congressman from the 2nd District of North Carolina, made Open Left's list of "Bush Dogs," Democratic reps who consistently and frustratingly vote with the White House on Iraq. I'm not in his district, but let me take a stab at writing an Etheridge profile. I welcome comments or even competing evaluations of Etheridge. Let Matt Stoller know if you have an Etheridge profile.

From this spreadsheet linked at Open Left, analyzing the Bush Dog reps and districts, I see that NC-02 has a PVI of 03 (+R). Bush carried the district in 2004 with 56% of the vote. On the list of Bush Dog districts, NC-02 is roughly in the middle of the pack by most measures. By Bush's 2004 margin, it ranks 18th out of the 37 on this list. By PVI, it is the 14th most favorable district for Democrats out of 37.

In 2004, at the same time Bush was winning NC-02 with 56%, the Democrat Etheridge was winning with 62%. In 2006 he got a boost to 67%. (Again, this places Etheridge in the middle of the pack of Bush Dogs, most of whom performed 10% or more better than John Kerry did in their district.)

Etheridge's Progressive Punch score, which evaluates his voting record. is 77.58, ranking 10th on the Bush Dog list. He doesn't stand out as an especially egregious Bush Dog.

An important fact about the Second District is that it includes part of Fort Bragg, a major Army base. It's a rural district, home of Campbell University--Etheridge's alma mater, and a conservative Southern Baptist-affiliated institution. And it's home to a lot of people with connections to Fort Bragg or Pope Air Force Base. Etheridge is an Army veteran himself and serves on the Homeland Security committee, and "supporting the troops" is pretty imperative for his political survival. He has said some things critical of White House policy, but it's hard to imagine Etheridge voting to de-fund combat operations.

Etheridge's district borders that of Mike McIntyre, another Bush Dog. Etheridge has sometimes worked in tandem with Walter Jones, a GOP representative who has taken some pretty brave stands against Bush and his party.

I've heard Etheridge speak in person on one occasion, at the Wake County party convention in early 2006. Brad Miller is my rep, Etheridge reps another part of the county, and both of them spoke at this convention, in front of a pretty activist crowd. I didn't keep notes, but my memory is that Miller said some things that got the crowd fired up, about the Orwellian character of working in George Bush's Washington. Etheridge didn't inspire; he tut-tutted about the bad news from Iraq and ballooning deficits, or something. Those two guys exemplify the divide in the Democratic caucus.

But Etheridge is folksy and likable. As a onetime farmer and member of the Agriculture Committee, he looks out for the farm lobby and agribusiness. As former NC state schools superintendent, he's strong on education. He's pretty good on the environment. He's pretty good on pocketbook issues, and he has good labor support. He has a good record on Latino issues, befitting a district with a lot of immigrants. He hedges a little on culture war issues like abortion and gun control. My basic sense of him is that he's a decent guy and a veteran politician who knows to a fare-thee-well how to survive as a Democrat in a conservative-leaning district.

I would venture to say that there's not much appetite in the state party for mounting a primary challenge against Etheridge. He climbed the ladder, from county to state then to federal office, and has plenty of allies in the state party. (Unlike John Edwards, incidentally.)

Like most Netroots people, I am dismayed by Democratic torpor on Iraq, by the existence and influence of the Bush Dog phenomenon. It's a long-term project to persuade the national party to tune out the Beltway insiders, actually listen to public opinion, and stop being neurotic about national security and the spectre of being perceived as soft. But in the shorter term, Etheridge's circumstances make him one of the Democrats least amenable to pressure on this front. At the same time, he is a good fit for his district, and throwing this bum out would probably result in a Republican bum taking his place.

Again, comments are welcome.

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