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Teaching Democrats 'How to Fight': PCCC's Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor

The duo at the helm of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is shaking up the Democratic establishment.

This is the second in a series of profiles of leading progressives in Washington, D.C.

To look at Stephanie Taylor and Adam Green, you'd hardly guess they are two of the most feared people in Washington -- at least among certain Democrats on Capitol Hill. But as co-founders and principals of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the casually dressed thirtysomethings have spent the last two years shaking up the Democratic establishment with a mix of moxie and innovation whose reach has been felt in the West Wing of the White House.

Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (now the frontrunner in Chicago's mayoral race) had some choice words for PCCC when the group ran ads against conservative Democrats who refused to support the public option during the health-care reform battle ("fucking retarded," Emanuel called the ads), and some have speculated it was PCCC, among others, that White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs had in mind when he made dismissive remarks about "the professional left."

Stephanie Taylor smiles sweetly when reminded of the criticism. "There are millions of people in this country who are hungry, millions of people who can't see a doctor, millions of people who don't have a job, and that's what's important," she says. "I don't care what the White House thinks about me; I care about doing something about that problem."

"Look," says Green, "we're trying to change the Democratic Party -- the national Democratic Party. And that necessarily means stepping on some toes… We don't go out of our way to step on toes, but we do need to be strategic, and sometimes making an example out of someone is important."

Take Blanche Lincoln, for example. After the former U.S. senator from Arkansas turned her back on the public option -- a publicly financed health-care program -- during the battle for health-care reform legislation, PCCC backed a primary challenge to Lincoln by Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. PCCC raised $300,000 for Halter and and sent two senior PCCC staffers -- Michael Snook and Keauna Gregory --  to run Halter's field operation. The field program was designed in such a way, Green says, to allow unions and progressive groups like MoveOn and Democracy for America easily plug in. And they did. 

PCCC then recruited DFA and MoveOn, along with prominent progressive donor Michael Kieschnik, to help fund a TV ad featuring 75-year-old Pauline Wildman, a PCCC member in Arkansas, talking about what Lincoln's support for cuts in Social Security would mean to her.

"We then collectively donated the ad to the [Halter] campaign," Green explained to me in an e-mail, "and the campaign immediately took down their consultant-made ad aimed at seniors and put the PCCC-directed ad up in its place."

Halter may have lost the general election, but Lincoln's chances weren't rated any better. And notice was served on the Democratic Party: back liberals, not Blue Dogs who vote with Republicans on issues that are important to the well-being of everyday Americans. 

Teaching Democrats How to Fight

But PCCC is more than an electoral campaign shop; in fact, it's not easy to arrive at a succinct description of just what it is. For starters, it's an online community whose membership is approaching 700,000, according to Taylor. It's also a lobbying operation on specific, targeted issues; a pressure group, and a resource bank of talent and strategy advice for progressive Democrats. Perhaps more than anything, though, PCCC has made itself a media magnet in both mainstream and alternative Web sites and publications: every effort, every issue campaign, every electoral gambit is designed to fuel a story that inserts the progressive position into the national political discussion.