Grassroots Groups Petition DCCC To ‘Stop Attacking Progressives’

Frustration with House Democrats’ campaign arm is boiling over.

Three leading progressive organizations launched a petition campaign Friday demanding that the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “stop attacking progressives.”

The petition, which is directed at DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), is a joint initiative of Justice Democrats, a progressive group that backs left-leaning primary candidates; Credo, a liberal, issue-based, online organizing outfit; and Our Revolution, the legacy group for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run.

“We call on Chairman of the DCCC Ben Ray Luján to stop attacking progressives,” a version of the petition circulated by Justice Democrats states. “Democrats should fight for progressive values and offer a clear contrast to [President Donald] Trump and the Republican Party.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is the target of a new liberal petition campaign.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is the target of a new liberal petition campaign.
Bill Clark/Getty Images

The groups’ decision to mobilize their formidable email lists to pressure the DCCC, which helps elect Democrats to the House, reflects a frustration that has come to a head in the past two weeks and could jeopardize party unity ahead of midterm elections where Democrats hope to make big gains.

Progressive activists believe the DCCC’s intervention in contentious primaries ― which has largely consisted of promoting moderate candidates and cautious campaign rhetoric ― reflects misguided political strategy and contempt for the Democratic base.

The most notable flashpoint between the DCCC and the liberal grassroots was the DCCC’s Feb. 23 publication of an opposition research dossier against Laura Moser, an anti-Trump activist-turned-progressive candidate running in Texas’ 7th Congressional District. The campaign arm’s memo featured a selectively edited quote from Moser and described her as a “Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”

A series of revelations this week, however, served as the more immediate catalyst for the petition effort. HuffPost reported that the DCCC advised candidates to avoid “politicizing” the Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, shootings in the immediate aftermath of those massacres. The Intercept also broke news that the party body used a questionably worded survey to counsel candidates against embracing single-payer health care, or even proactively volunteering health policy ideas.

Justice Democrats, Credo and Our Revolution, which drafted similar but not identical petitions, all referenced the HuffPost and Intercept stories in their appeals.

“The goal is to call attention to the DCCC and the Democratic Party leadership shooting itself in the foot and missing opportunities of where the party should really be investing in, which is progressive leaders, leaders of color who are gonna help them get back the majority,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which, like Our Revolution, has endorsed Moser’s primary bid. (Credo does not endorse candidates.)

Justice Democrats hope to receive an apology from Luján and a promise not to intervene in Democratic primaries going forward, according to Shahid.

That response does not appear forthcoming. When asked about progressive discontent with the DCCC, communications director Meredith Kelly said the DCCC “has long recognized and appreciated the unprecedented influence that the grassroots have in these races.”

Kelly nonetheless maintained that the campaign arm “is keeping all options on the table to work with our allies and ensure that there’s a competitive Democrat on the ballot for voters to elect in November.”

The dispute between the DCCC and left-wing groups with millions of active members reflects a broader disagreement between the so-called Democratic “establishment” ― comprising mainstream elected officials, party leaders and donors ― and the restive, progressive base.

With its focus on the best-funded, most moderate and most cautious candidates, the DCCC apparently sees a path to retaking the House through the mostly affluent, moderate Republicans displeased with Trump.

The DCCC arguably deployed this strategy successfully in the 2006 midterms, the last time Democrats flipped the House.

But Shahid and his allies say the 2016 elections proved this tactic is no longer viable. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was predicated on the notion that she could pick up enough moderate Republicans to offset Trump’s gains among blue-collar Democrats.

In the end, the combination of blue-collar white voters’ swing to Trump, and dampened turnout among young people and people of color in key industrial states, cost Clinton the election.

“You need to engage the base if we’re gonna be in the majority, which is communities of color, young people, progressives and working-class people of all races who don’t feel like the party represents them,” Shahid said.

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