Roots Action, a left-wing group led largely by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), drafted a report on 15 House members it considers ripe targets for progressive primary challenges, arming the Democratic Party’s populist wing with a new organizing tool as it seeks to unseat a growing number of incumbents.
Roots Action, which is calling its analysis “Bad Blues: Some of the House Democrats Who Deserve to Be ‘Primaried,’” hopes the report can serve as a road map and source of encouragement for individuals or groups considering a primary run.
The incumbent House members its identifies are: Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who chairs House Democrats’ campaign arm; Jim Cooper of Tennessee; Jim Costa of California; Henry Cuellar of Texas; Eliot Engel of New York; Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey; Jim Himes of Connecticut; Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland; Derek Kilmer of Washington; Dan Lipinski of Illinois; Gregory Meeks of New York; Brad Schneider of Illinois; Kurt Schrader of Oregon; David Scott of Georgia; and Juan Vargas of California.
Below each of the Democrats’ names, Roots Action includes several paragraphs about their policy record making the case for replacing them and the districts they serve in, as well as information about existing efforts to challenge any of the lawmakers. The group plans to send the report to its 1.2 million-member email list, including activists in each of the 15 congressional districts.
“It isn’t easy to defeat a Democratic incumbent in a primary. Typically, the worse the Congress member, the more (corporate) funding they get,” Roots Action co-authors Norman Solomon, Sam McCann, Pia Gallegos and Jeff Cohen write in the introduction. “While most insurgent primary campaigns will not win, they’re often very worthwhile ― helping progressive constituencies to get better organized and to win elections later. And a grassroots primary campaign can put a scare into the Democratic incumbent to pay more attention to voters and less to big donors.”
Some of the figures in “Bad Blues” are familiar to progressive activists who follow the news. Bustos earned the enmity of the left as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a March decision to blacklist consultants that work with candidates challenging incumbents.
Others, like Meeks, might be less familiar. Meeks, a corporate-friendly opponent of tougher banking policies like the financial transaction tax, succeeded former Rep. Joseph Crowley as chair of the Queens County Democratic Party after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted Crowley in a June 2018 primary. Meeks has used his perch as the new boss of the Queens machine to thwart the ascent of the most progressive candidate for Queens district attorney, whose high-profile backers he dubbed “patronizing” to the borough’s black residents.
Some of the incumbents have already elicited spirited primary challengers, including Hoyer, Scott, Lipinski, Engel and Cuellar.
Still, other members of Congress like Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, whose centrist records have earned them liberal ire, were not on the list of targeted incumbents.
The report’s authors noted though that it is “by no means exhaustive ― only illustrative.”
Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, a group that backed Ocasio-Cortez and now-Rep. Ayanna Pressley in their primary wins last year and has recruited challengers to run against Cuellar and Engel, described the advent of the report as a sign of the times.
“The upset victories by Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have revealed more enthusiasm for more primary challengers and a different model of representation in the Democratic Party,” he said. “Everyone should be looking over their shoulder.”
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