House Campaign Committee Tries to Push a Progressive Out of 2018 Primary

Election '18

The Democratic Party’s Washington-based insiders overseeing their 2018 efforts to win back a U.S. House majority are trying to undermine another progressive candidate—this time it's Greg Edwards, an African-American pastor running in Pennsylvania’s 7th district.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, is pressuring Edwards to get out of the race, according to reports by progressive groups working with Edwards and the Washington Post, which said DCCC officials were asking local Democrats if they thought Edwards could be persuaded to run for a state senate seat instead. Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were just redrawn by the state Supreme Court after Republicans were found to have violated their state constitution, which apparently prompted the DCCC’s intervention, according to the Post.

But the optics for the DCCC are terrible, and seem to confirm a deepening pattern. Only a week ago, the DCCC posted opposition research (usually used to attack opponents) about a Texas progressive congressional candidate, Laura Moser, on its website. That effort backfired, helping Moser to raise nearly $80,000 in days, and now she's coming in second in pre-election polls for Tuesday’s primary, which would position her for a runoff election.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman, told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” series, referring to the DCCC's attack on Moser.

But the DCCC is its own sphere inside the larger party universe. It's a creature of House incumbents, and its biggest task is re-electing officeholders and trying to win 24 more seats needed for a majority. While that purview makes it inherently centrist, the DCCC apparently has little intention of heeding the chairman’s message, even as Perez takes steps to break with the past and partner with grassroots organizations.

The effort to pressure Edwards to leave his congressional race is not the first instance of the DCCC turning its back on a progressive in Pennsylvania. In January, The Intercept detailed how the DCCC worked behind the scenes to undermine the candidacy of Jess King, a progressive who ran a successful nonprofit helping women in business, was successful raising funds, and also secured many local endorsements. 

More recently after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, DCCC internal communiqués initially advised its endorsed candidates not to overly “politicize” their response, underscoring to progressives how out of touch the DCCC is with the public. Other memos advised candidates to avoid endorsing Medicare for All health care reform.

But pushing a progressive black candidate like Greg Edwards to end his campaign hit a deep nerve.

“Greg Edwards is exactly the kind of progressive leader that the Democratic Party should be investing in,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which has backed 52 progressives running for Congress and is helping his voter contact efforts. “It’s a shame that the DCCC and the wealthy white donors and revolving door consultants that make up the Democratic Party establishment are actively trying to stop Greg. Their consultant-driven strategy seems to prefer milquetoast candidates who they believe can appeal to moderate Republicans over progressive candidates of color. This is what systemic racism looks like.”

Shahid predicted the divide between the party’s progressives and centrists will deepen.

“Now that progressives are threatening major upsets against their hand-picked candidates in upcoming primaries, the DCCC has begun an all-out war against progressives,” he said. “It’s candidates like Greg who will activate the base that will bring Democrats a majority in Congress: young people, people of color, women, and working people of all backgrounds. Greg’s grassroots campaign is showing that when Democrats fight for progressive policies like Medicare for All, debt-free college and criminal justice reform, we can bring in the volunteer capacity and small-dollar donors we need to take back Congress.”

Shahid’s sentiments were not unique. On Friday, Justice Democrats, Credo Action and Our Revolution launched a series of petitions calling on DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan to "stop undermining progressive values,” as Credo Action’s statement put it.

“The petitions by progressive groups come after a series of stories concerning the DCCC ranging from a leaked memo advising Democrats not to run on Medicare for All to advising candidates to not ‘politicize’ mass shootings,” Credo’s statement said. “The DCCC has also been criticized for having no endorsed black candidates in their red-to-blue program and Justice Democrats has criticized DCCC for attacking progressive congressional candidate Laura Moser in TX-7.”

“We will not create the world we believe in unless elected officials are willing to take clear, unequivocal stands for progressive values,” said Heidi Hess, co-director of Credo Action. “Right now, the DCCC’s advice to candidates and its failure to fully embrace candidates of color is standing in the way of progress. That’s why we’re demanding that the DCCC immediately stop its shortsighted and unhelpful attacks on progressive values.”

“The DCCC has lost touch with its base,” said Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution. “Despite facing continued losses, they have yet to realize that the path to the majority requires supporting diverse candidates who hold progressive values. The majority of Democrats, and many independent voters, support Medicare for All and banning assault rifles. Our party leaders would do well to follow the examples of House members like Reps. Keith Ellison (MN), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Pramila Jayapal (WA). Progressives are ready to organize to win back the House, but we need a party that is willing to take a stand, not run to the right.”

The DCCC’s actions will come under greater scrutiny next week, when Texas holds the first congressional primary elections of 2018. If Laura Moser comes in first or second out a field of seven candidates, leading to a runoff, it will be a major rebuke.

“Laura Moser is the most public attack the DCCC has launched so far, but they have been working behind the scenes against progressive primary challengers for some time,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, executive director of Justice Democrats. “An unprecedented number of grassroots activists are demanding health care as a right, a ban on assault weapons, and action on economic and racial inequality. Despite this, the DCCC is doubling down on a strategy to court moderate Republicans and the billionaire class instead of the progressive wing of their own party.”

The petitions can be found here:

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