On the surface, the Democratic Party looks remarkably unified heading into the 2016 presidential election, with Hillary Clinton scaring off any internal competition and Democrats rallying behind recruits in key Senate races. But there are divisions percolating within the party—ruptures that could grow more significant if setbacks occur on the road to a Clinton coronation.
Congressional races often serve as a leading indicator of what the future holds at the top of the ticket. And already, there are several primaries that would pit the Democratic Party's pragmatic liberal wing against the true-blue progressives. Democrats may not end up with significantly more contested primaries than in the past, but the ideological stakes will be higher. The battles are shaping up to be over core issues splitting the party: entitlements, support for Israel, national security, and others. The intraparty divisions that President Obama has suppressed and Hillary Clinton has avoided will be litigated down the ballot, and the stakes won't be for control of the Senate, but for control of the party's future.
Take the Maryland Senate race. Both Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen hail from the party's progressive wing. But Edwards is already aggressively pointing to Van Hollen's past openness to a grand budget bargain to draw a contrast with her challenger. "Our approach to Social Security must be absolute and non-negotiable," she warned in a recent fundraising email. That's not the only dividing line between Edwards and Van Hollen: She's one of the more outspoken Democratic critics of Israel, frequently voting with a small minority against symbolic, pro-Israel resolutions and winning enthusiastic support from J Street, a Jewish group that frequently criticizes Israel's policies.