Election '18

Why Are the D.C. Dems Attacking a Progressive Candidate for Congress in Texas?

Is the attack a sign of what awaits other progressives running for Congress in 2018?

Photo Credit: moserforcongress.com/photos/

The Democratic Party’s internal civil war is continuing in Texas.  

In the first primary elections of 2018, Washington-based operatives overseeing its congressional campaigns have taken the unusual step of publicly trashing a progressive newcomer, Laura Moser, one of seven candidates running in Texas’ seventh House district representing parts of Houston.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) did so by posting a negative endorsement—opposition research usually used to discourage an opponent’s supporters—on its website, characterizing Moser as an opportunist who would lose to the Republican incumbent in the fall. It cited a tongue-and-cheek article Moser wrote for the Washingtonian, a D.C. publication, where she lived before returning to her home state to run. In it, Moser chided people complaining about Washington, joking that she would “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than move back to Paris, Texas (where her grandparents lived; she's from Houston). The DCCC also said her husband’s Washington-based political consulting firm was making money off her race.

The attack roused progressive groups to rally behind Moser, an ex-freelance journalist, who, after Donald Trump won the presidency, created Daily Action, a text-messaging program giving frustrated people a task to do each day. Since the DCCC’s post surfaced Thursday, Moser has raised $86,700 from 4,515 people in every state, with one-sixth coming from Houston, her press secretary, Freeland Ellis, said Monday. The campaign also crossed the 1,000-person volunteer threshold, the Texas Tribune reported. Taken together, Moser’s campaign has become a progressive rallying cry, somewhat akin to 2017’s candidacy of Jon Ossoff in George’s sixth House district (which Ossoff narrowly lost after a runoff). At its heart, the fight pits new progressive blood against centrist party insiders.

“Why would the DCCC do such an awful thing to a strong Democratic candidate in a critical race? There are many possible reasons, but one likely reason could be that Laura Moser stood up to the DCCC last summer in support of abortion rights,” Democracy For America Chair Jim Dean said in another email, referring to a Vogue article she wrote in August. “When DCCC chair Ben Ray Luján said it was acceptable to support anti-abortion candidates, Laura Moser strongly disagreed—and said so publicly. DFA applauded Laura's strong stand in support of abortion rights. Now the DCCC wants to destroy her chances of winning the Texas Democratic primary on March 6.” 

“DCCC’s actions unfortunately reveal a party establishment cracking down on leaders who challenge their way of doing things,” wrote Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats, which has endorsed Moser and more than 50 other progressives running for Congress this spring. “They believe we need Democrats who can cater to the agenda of Wall Street and the wealthy donor class and now they’re putting their thumbs on the scale.”  

The DCCC attack is the latest example of a national apparatus that doesn’t want progressives in its midst. Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats to win a majority next November. The DCCC's current list of endorsees on its “red-to-blue” page is filled with more mainstream candidates: former prosecutors, ex-Obama administration officials, military veterans and educators. 

In some ways, that’s not surprising. The DCCC is a campaign organization that’s run by the party’s congressional incumbents. It has that insider and mainstream bias. But the attack on Moser, which Vox aptly described as “torching a Texas Democrat they’re afraid will win the primary,” comes amid a Democratic National Committee that’s been slow to adopt its post-Democratic National Convention reforms sought by the party’s Berniecrat wing. The attack raises questions about whether Moser’s candidacy will be the first among many the DCCC will oppose this spring as its state primaries approach. 

The latter question is perhaps most important as it transcends whatever will unfold in Moser’s primary race, where there are seven Democrats running. Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice candidates, has endorsed Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was described by the Intercept as a “corporate lawyer who is backed by Houston mega-donor Sherry Merfish.” On the other hand, it seems unlikely the DCCC would be attacking Moser if its polling did not show she could win.

DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly did not reply to an AlterNet email asking whether the attack is a one-off occurrence or a sign of what’s to come if progressives do well in their races—but party insiders believe others would fare better in the fall.

Kelly’s comments to Vox implied this might not be a one-time event. “When there’s a truly disqualified general election candidate that would eliminate our ability to flip a district blue, that’s a time when it becomes necessary to get involved in these primaries,” Kelly said. “This district is too important to let it go without trying.”

Moser wrote a reply to the attack, which Democracy For America quickly sent out.

“Last night, I was shocked to find myself the subject of an unprecedented attack by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” Moser wrote. “The basis was a single quote that was blatantly taken out of context—a silly joke twisted into a desperate, clumsy smear. As this campaign has progressed, it has become clear that many of the bigwigs decided long ago who they wanted to represent you. They had narrowed it down to the same kinds of corporate candidates that they always run—with their ties to big banks, big law firms, and big money.”

Moser, a lifelong Democrat, said she is running because “we must do everything we can to be the change that we want. I was tired of seeing the Democratic Party put up the same kinds of candidates year after year—and then, when those candidates lost, return to the same old playbook. I knew there was a hunger for a new direction because I had the same hunger. I did not feel that the mainstream Democratic voter—the one who worries about paying for college for the kids, the one who is shocked by Donald Trump's racism and corruption, the one who is terrified of the next hurricane season—was being represented.”

Indeed, Moser's Vogue article from last August started off by saying what many women have been saying since the MeToo protests began: it's time to speak up. 

“As a first-time congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján and the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee….But I cannot hold my tongue while Luján and the DCCC abandon the commitment to human rights that brought me to the party in the first place,” she wrote. “I believe that if Democrats—not any one Democrat, and certainly not just me—want to start winning races again, Luján’s statement that the DCCC would fund candidates who oppose abortion rights puts our country in danger, and makes it all the more likely that the Republicans will continue to defeat us in election after election.”

Moser’s campaign finance reports showed she was out-raising the other Democrats in the race, a metric the DCCC usually lauds. Despite, as Moser said, “not a single one of my positions, be it on health care, women’s rights, or repairing our infrastructure, is outside of the Democratic mainstream,” the DCCC attacked.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” the DCCC said on its website. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress....As of January 2018, she claimed Washington, DC to be her primary residence in order to get a tax break. And she has paid her husband’s Washington, DC political consulting firm over $50,000 from campaign contributions; meaning 1 of every 6 dollars raised has gone to her husband’s DC company.”

Moser replied that the DCCC is being shortsighted, arrogant and immature.

“This is not about policy,” she said. “It's a matter of people in Washington thinking that they, and not you, should decide who represents us… We're in a national emergency. It's not a time for high school shenanigans like quotes ripped out of context, doctored photos, and easily disproved allegations. It's a time for leaders who understand the seriousness of this moment and who are ready to rise to the occasion.”

We will see what voters in Moser's Houston district decide on March 6. In the meantime, we will also see if the DCCC’s treatment of Laura Moser is a one-time occurrence, or a sign of what’s to come as other progressives are faring well in 2018’s primary season. Texas votes first, followed by Illinois later in the month and many states in rapid succession after that.
 

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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).