Supporting the elimination of the filibuster has become the new litmus test for Democrats running for U.S. Senate in battleground races across the country.
Democrats in Senate primary races in Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania have pledged to change the filibuster or eliminate it. They also are denigrating Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia as traitors for refusing to go along with the “nuclear option” to blow up the filibuster and ram through President Biden’s new election laws in party-line votes.
“I won’t mince words, I don’t know what compelled Sens. Sinema and Manchin to serve in Congress, but I do know that they refuse to do anything — anything at all — for working families like the one that I grew up in,” former Rep. Abby Finkenauer said in a fundraising email for her Senate campaign in Iowa. “But I do know that I’m done having our entire Democratic agenda rest in the hands of two people.”
It’s a popular tune with the party’s base. The rub for Ms. Finkenauer and other Democratic hopefuls is figuring out how to play it in the general election, especially in battleground states where they are trying to unseat Republican senators.
Ms. Finkenauer is running for the Democratic nomination in her quest to oust Sen. Chuck Grassley. The Iowa Republican, serving his seventh term, voted against changing the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most bills to survive in the Senate.
“Friend, you have my word: Send me to the Senate, and I will be the 50th vote we need to reform the filibuster,” she said. “I’ll fight tooth and nail to protect voting rights, raise the federal minimum wage, and pass the PRO Act to strengthen worker’s rights and our unions.”
Voters are hearing the same message in Wisconsin, where Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski are vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
“Just shameful. 50 Senate Republicans want to break our democracy — and two Democrats lack the courage to stop them,” Ms. Godlewski said. “When I’m in the U.S. Senate, I won’t hesitate to end the filibuster and protect the right to vote. We need more senators who aren’t afraid of this fight.”
T.W. Arrighi, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm for Senate Republicans, said the Democrats are playing with fire.
“Senate hopefuls across the country have been forced to take another unpopular position on a divisive issue thanks to political malpractice by [Senate Majority Leader Charles E.] Schumer and Joe Biden,” he said. “The filibuster isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and Democrat leadership knows that. … Biden wants to save face with the left, so now everyone is forced to walk the plank with them.”
A Politico/Morning Consult poll released this month found registered voters support keeping the filibuster rule by a 42% to 30% margin, while 28% did not have an opinion.
More than 4 in 10 Democrats opposed the rule, compared with a quarter of independents and less than 2 in 10 Republicans.
Registered voters were more evenly split over whether they supported or opposed changing the Senate’s filibuster rules to pass “voting rights legislation.”
The proposal cut dramatically along party lines: 62% of Democrats, 29% of independents and 17% of Republicans backed the idea.
Mr. Biden opposed the “nuclear option” during his 36 years in the Senate. He staked out new ground in March, announcing he was open to gutting the filibuster to force the Democratic bill through the 50-50 split Senate.
President Trump also pressured lawmakers to eliminate the rule, but Republican leaders insisted the tool was there for a reason: to give the minority party a voice and force consensus. At that time, most Democrats agreed.
With the Biden agenda bottled up, the push to change the rule is all the rage among Democrats.
Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat in Ohio, said in a video posted on social media that he is “super pissed” that the Senate failed to pass “two voting rights bills.” He described it as a missed opportunity to make it easier to vote and “shift the power back to working people.”
“We got to get rid of the filibuster,” Mr. Ryan said. “I just don’t think there is a way that we are going to get a government of, by and for the people if we continue to have the filibuster. We need to change it.”
In the race for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Rep. Conor Lamb said the race is the party’s best chance to change the math in the Senate. He promised “to end the filibuster & protect the right to vote.”
John Fetterman, another candidate in Pennsylvania, posted a picture of Mr. Manchin speaking on the floor with a poster superimposed beside him that read: “Fetterman would scrap the filibuster.”