The Washington Post, “The Trailer: Where 2020’s primary challenges are coming from”

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In this edition: The 2020 insurgent primaries take shape, Biden doesn’t change a thing, and abortion keeps tripping up the Democrats.

I have a bunch of soybeans to unload if you know somebody who wants them, and this is The Trailer.

Marie Newman is running for Congress again. In 2018, she came just 2,125 votes short of ousting Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in a primary, arguing that a deep blue district deserved a reliably liberal congresswoman. 

“The Chicago machine is not going to make this easy for me,” she said. “They’re already out there in force. We are ready for it this time and we’ve put a lot of infrastructure together. We’re starting much earlier than we did in 2018, and more people know my name.”

In both parties, unrest has been mostly manageable. At this very early stage in the 2020 cycle, fewer Democratic members of Congress are facing left-wing primary challenges than in 2018. Those challengers who have emerged are focused more on safe districts — “blue to blue” races — than the try-everything class of 2018. Republicans, meanwhile, are watching challengers enter their 2020 primaries on the same “true conservative” grounds as the old tea party challengers, with a twist: Instead of accusing GOP incumbents of doing too little to oppose President Barack Obama, they see them doing too little to support President Trump. 

On the left, Democratic challengers have been complicated by new rules; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has told consultants who worked with primary challengers that they would be blocked from working with the party’s campaign committee.

That hasn’t stopped Newman, who on Monday was endorsed by a coalition of liberal groups — Emily’s List, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and Democracy for America. Some early media attention about the “blacklist” also boosted Newman’s fundraising, with PCCC members and other activists donating tens of thousands of dollars.

Newman said there are still frustrations with the support she’s gotten.

“We are still having trouble getting a pollster because it’s a very specific type of activity and requires a certain level of expertise,” Newman said in an interview. “And we’ve lost other consultants that we thought we could get.”

The highest-profile backlash to the DCCC’s new consultant rule has been a DCCC boycott by College Democrat chapters; but College Democrats are more valuable to campaigns as volunteers than as donors, and they are continuing to work for individual candidates.

“The DCCC implemented their policies to prevent progressive primary challengers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley from going ‘mainstream’ in 2020, but it looks like the exact opposite is happening,” said Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas, citing two first-term Democratic members of Congress.

It’s not just the DCCC’s rule that has changed the landscape; the left’s goals have shifted since 2018. In that cycle, new groups such as Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, arguing that the Democratic Party had failed at every level, recruited dozens of candidates for all sorts of districts — safely red, safely blue and swing. Nearly all of the primary challengers lost, but one of them, Ocasio-Cortez of New York, became one of the best-known and most galvanizing members of Congress.

“In order for one of us to make it through, a hundred of us have to try,” Ocasio-Cortez told a defeated Justice Democrat in 2018, in a moment captured in the new documentary “Knock Down the House.”

In 2019, the left’s focus is on safely blue seats. Sean McElwee, co-founder of the think tank Data for Progress, argued that the terrain was much friendlier, not just because local Democrats are accustomed to winning but because long-serving incumbents are out of practice in a way that swing-seat Democrats are not.

“I don’t want to let the DCCC control the fate of the progressive movement,” McElwee said. “The solution is that you leave their turf of swing districts for the lawless zone of blue-to-blue primaries. You can win the argument there, because the D.C. consultants don’t know how to talk to Democratic voters anymore.”

The DCCC policy has been a complicating factor for some potential Democratic primary challengers. A candidate who had outraised Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) in his first quarter quit the race last month, citing a family issue; a four-month campaign to find a challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) has found no takers. 

But the left’s new thinking has meant challenges to Lipinski, to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and to Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.). Each represents a safely blue district where, on average, Donald Trump won 32.9 percent of the vote in 2016. Each challenge is premised on the idea that voters want new leadership in line with liberal values, if only they realize that they can have it.

That has found Hoyer’s challenger, Mckayla Wilkes, attacking the leader’s support of “Israeli apartheid,” and it has found Scott’s challenger, Michael Owens, attacking the congressman’s vote against blocking aid to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and a vote to relax some rules that restrict payday lenders.

“There are things he voted on that really just cripple our district and seem to affect black and brown communities more so than others,” Owens said. (Both Scott and Owensare black, as are a majority of the district’s voters.) “He had an opportunity to stop this terrible war that was going on, with thousands of innocent women and children being killed, and he didn’t take it.”

The people organizing challenges argue that any “blue to blue” race is a win for the party. Justice Democrats say the push to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen was sped along by one of their 2018 challenges: Sarah Smith, who lost by 36 points to Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), challenged the congressman on that issue in a safe blue seat.(Washington is one of three states with “top two” runoffs, which led to an all-Smith election with no chance of Republican victory.)

Younger, hungrier candidates, they say, can build the party in ways that older, safe incumbents don’t. That was crucial to the argument Rep. Pressley (D-Mass.) made in 2018, and it’s a big part of the case Owens is making now, in a race against an incumbent who will turn 75 during this term. 

The DCCC defends its policies.

“I don’t want to spend one ounce of any resource on keeping Democrats in the seats that they already have,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) told the Chicago Tribune this week. “I want to make sure that we have resources to pick up seats.”

The strategies of early Republican challengers are very different. In the past few weeks, Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) have gotten primary opponents. Collins is being challenged by Derek Levasseur, a party activist; Tillis is facing Garland Tucker, a wealthy venture capitalist seen as more of a threat because he could self-fund a campaign.

Both challengers are running in swing states against senators whom the party has promised to protect, and both argue that the incumbents have not worked closely enough with the president. In an interview, Levasseur said that Collins’s vote for Brett Kavanaugh had impressed him, but she had voted against the president on key issues related to immigration, such as the president’s declaration of an emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Bill Weld comes out and says he’ll challenge the president in the primary, and Mitt Romney and Susan Collins come out and say what a good guy he is,” Levasseur said. “She says it’s good for the political process for the president to get a primary, so I’m going to keep the process good here in Maine and give her a primary.”

Levasseur is not well known, but Maine Republicans say there’s not much movement to prevent a primary. “There’s a lot of discontent amongst her constituents because they don’t feel that she is representing them,” said Cindy Johansen, the party chair in rural Aroostook County.

Tucker’s campaign in North Carolina has the same premise; the candidate, according to adviser Carter Wrenn, is ready to argue that Tillis has undercut the president when it counted.

“Tillis said he was against amnesty, so Trump got elected and repealed Obama’s executive order,” said Wrenn, referring to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “What does Tillis do? He says amnesty for 1.8 million illegals is something we need to debate.”

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