Progressives Go Around DCCC To Help Primary Challengers Of House Democrats

Even a former top party operative is bucking the establishment to help unseat conservative Rep. Dan Lipinski.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has ramped up efforts to protect House incumbents.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has ramped up efforts to protect House incumbents.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― Progressive groups have been railing against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over its new policy of cutting off business with vendors who work with candidates mounting primary challenges against incumbent House Democrats.

They just gained a notable ally: Guy Cecil, the former head of the DCCC’s sister group, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Cecil is backing Marie Newman, a 2020 primary challenger taking on Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). The conservative Democrat narrowly fended off Newman in last year’s primary.

Cecil, who is currently the chairman of Priorities USA, a progressive advocacy group, was the DSCC’s political director in the 2006 election cycle and its executive director in the 2012 cycle.

His knock on Lipinski comes on the heels of Democracy for America endorsing Newman, marking that progressive group’s first non-incumbent endorsement in the House.

“The DCCC is doing tremendous damage to the Democratic brand and the progressive values it’s supposed to represent every single day they continue their blacklist policy that protects anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, corporate Democrats like Dan Lipinski,” Democracy for America chair Charles Chamberlain said Friday. “Marie Newman brings the fresh, progressive energy needed to replace one of the most retrograde corporate Democrats still standing in Congress.”

Lipinski, now in his eighth term, has drawn fire from the left for co-sponsoring anti-LGBTQ legislation, opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood and voting against his party on the Dream Act and the Affordable Care Act. Newman, a nonprofit executive, is aligned with progressives on all of those fronts. But her campaign has been kneecapped by the DCCC’s policy.

“I’ve had four consultants leave the campaign,” Newman told Politico on Friday. “We’ve now had two mail firms say that they couldn’t work with us because of the DCCC issue, and then a [communications] group, a compliance group and several pollsters.”

Sean McElwee of Data Progress, a left-leaning polling group, chided the DCCC for putting Newman in that position.

A DCCC spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The news of Newman’s campaign setbacks is only exacerbating progressives’ outrage over the DCCC vendor policy, announced last month.

On March 30, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) ripped the policy on Twitter, calling it “extremely divisive & harmful to the party” and urging people to give donations directly to candidates instead of the DCCC. Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus met with the DCCC chairwoman, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), to complain. Young Democrats at 40 college campuses have been calling for a boycott of the DCCC over its policy.

Meanwhile, Democracy for America and other left-leaning groups, including Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, launched DCCC Blacklist, a website that provides potential primary challengers with “a database of go-to vendors, organizations, and consultants who will continue to support efforts to usher in a new generation of leaders into the Democratic Party.”

The former DCCC chair, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), has distanced himself from the policy. And at least two presidential contenders have bucked the Democratic organization to endorse Newman: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Gillibrand tweeted that she was “proud to endorse” Newman and that the people of Illinois “deserve leaders who will truly fight for all of them, including women seeking reproductive healthcare.”

Sanders said he’s convinced that Newman “will be a champion for working families in Illinois” and that he’s proud to support her.

“In Congress, Marie will fight for Medicare for All, a $15 an hour minimum wage, and providing workers with benefits such as paid sick leave, while protecting Medicare and Social Security,” Sanders said last month. “She will defend women’s rights, LGBT rights and ensure immigrants have a safe path to citizenship.”

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