Left faces off with Dem establishment in primary fights

An energized left is taking on the Democratic establishment in primaries across the country, deepening the fissures within the party.

Progressives are riding a groundswell of enthusiasm since President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE took office as Democrats look to take the House and defend Senate seats in 2018.

But progressive activists are also challenging fellow Democrats in the hopes of reshaping the party in a significant way after their 2016 defeat. Progressives are championing efforts that urge Democrats to embrace policies like single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage and unequivocal support for women’s reproductive rights.

That’s heightened tensions between progressives and more moderate Democrats, as some worry that the party is risking votes by moving too far left.


The tug of war within the party has been front and center in Texas, which will hold the first primaries of the midterm elections next week.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has come under fire from progressives and even some party leaders for wading into the Houston-area primary in Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonBottom line Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm Bottom line MORE’s (R-Texas) district.

In a rare move, the DCCC published opposition research about journalist and activist Laura Moser, who’s been backed by several major progressive groups. The campaign committee has tagged Moser, who recently moved back to Houston, as a “Washington insider.” 

The attack against a fellow Democrat infuriated progressive groups who fired back at the DCCC and argued that voters should be the ones deciding who will represent them. Groups like Credo, Our Revolution and Justice Democrats launched a petition on Friday calling on DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) “to stop undermining progressive values.”

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“The DCCC has lost touch with its base. 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,” said Nina Turner, the president of Our Revolution, which is aligned with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.). 

And some national Democrats haven’t been silent about the attack on Moser. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE told C-SPAN “Newsmakers” on Friday that he “wouldn’t have done it” and said that Democrats should focus on issues instead. 

But the DCCC has stood by its decision, arguing that it shows Moser would make a poor general election candidate because of questions surrounding her residency and claims that her husband unfairly benefited from her campaign. 

“Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly told The Texas Tribune.

Democrats think they can win the seat because Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE won the district in 2016 by a razor-thin margin. But with Culberson holding the seat for nearly two decades, some Democrats believe they need a more moderate candidate in order to be competitive in the general.

With a crowded field, it’s likely that no candidate will exceed the 50 percent needed in Tuesday’s primary to avoid a runoff, meaning the top two vote getters will compete again on May 22. 

Progressives and moderates elsewhere in the country are also fighting it out in primary battles — even in races where Democrats expect to easily hold those seats.

In Illinois, Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiEngel scrambles to fend off primary challenge from left Liberal group backs challenger to Engel in Democratic primary The Hill’s Campaign Report: Campaigns scale back amid coronavirus threat MORE (D), a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker, is facing his toughest primary challenge to date.

Marie Newman, a marketing consultant, has been boosted by progressive and abortion rights groups in the Chicago-area seat ahead of the March 20 primary.

Anti-abortion Democrats have become a rare breed in Congress, and the outcome of the race could signal where the party has landed on the issue.

Last year, the party was roiled by whether the party should only back candidates who support abortion rights. 

The DCCC has yet to indicate whether or not it will back Lipinski. But House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE (D-Calif.), who has previously defended Democrats as a big-tent party, said on Thursday that she supports his reelection race, according to the Washington Examiner. 

Unseating a well-funded incumbent is historically an uphill challenge, particularly for first-time candidates like Newman. And Lipinski has said that his views fit the district and that constituents are aware of his positions.

But a victory for Newman could spell doom for other anti-abortion Democrats running in the future.

And in California, there’s also been a noticeable shift to the left in the Senate race.

California Democrats tout the blue wave that has delivered the party supermajorities in the state legislature. And some Democrats in the Golden State want the party to be an even deeper shade of blue. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos GOP votes to give Graham broad subpoena power in Obama-era probe MORE (D-Calif.) has served in the Senate for more than 25 years, but some Democrats believe she hasn’t held Trump accountable.

Progressives’ frustration with Feinstein, 84, came to a head at the California Democratic Party’s convention in San Diego last weekend when she notably failed to get the endorsement.

Feinstein secured only 37 percent of the convention vote, while her main rival state Senate leader Kevin de León (D) got 54 percent of the vote. But since he fell below the 60-percent threshold, neither candidate won the endorsement.

De León has fashioned himself as a fresh face and an ardent backer of universal health care. If he’s elected, de León has said he would sign onto the bill introduced by Sanders that would create a single-payer health-care system. And he’s pushed back on Feinstein for opposing the Vermont senator’s “Medicare for all” legislation last year. 

Still, the longtime senator has a significant fundraising and polling advantage over de León and is still expected to win another term. 

But the snub shows how California has shifted even further to the left —  and how more Democrats are embracing candidates who support single-payer health care.

Republicans have seized on the Democratic infighting.

“These days, the only unity we see from Democrats is when they’re forced to discuss Nancy Pelosi’s future at the helm of the Party,” said National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Matt Gorman.

“Democrats are a divided party whose infighting will only get worse as the year goes on.”