Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party

Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party
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An impressive primary showing from progressive candidates on Tuesday is fueling speculation about whether Democrats will — or should — be pulled further left as the party seeks to take back the House this fall.

The liberal wing of the caucus, which has been clamoring for generational change among the party’s leaders, is elated with the recent victories, calling it a clear sign of where the Democratic Party is headed.

“That’s been happening for a while,” Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoArizona detention center worker accused of molesting migrant girl Hispanic Dems press Nielsen on family separations Latinos aren't reaching top military positions, study shows MORE (D-Ariz.), a vice chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told reporters Wednesday. “The party has been going through changes for quite a while, but I think now you’re seeing it effectively show up in elections.”

But other Democrats cautioned that it’s still too early to make predictions, arguing that each district is unique.

“I think the jury is out on whether this is a national trend,” Rep. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaProgressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party Live coverage: High drama as hardline immigration bill fails, compromise vote delayed Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE (D-Texas), a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, told The Hill.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi seizes on anti-corruption message against GOP Dem mega-donor to spend M on GOTV campaign ahead of midterms The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts MORE (D-Calif.), asked about the shocking primary defeat of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), was also quick to dismiss the idea that Tuesday’s results will have broader implications.

“It’s about that district. It is not to be viewed as something that stands for everything else,” Pelosi told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

Democrats think they have a real shot at winning the House, with only 23 seats needed to take back the majority and many election observers predicting a blue wave fueled by anti-Trump fervor this fall.

But there is a fierce internal debate raging in the Democratic Party about the best strategy to regain power. Some lawmakers believe that the path to the majority hinges on moving toward the center — not the left — especially in suburban swing districts where independent voters form a crucial voting bloc.

But they may have little control over the party’s direction after progressives had their biggest night of the year on Tuesday.

The defeat of Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in House leadership who had Speaker ambitions, sent shockwaves through Washington.

Crowley lost in a massive upset to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old organizer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Ellison wins Minnesota AG primary amid late domestic violence allegations Ironworker and star of viral video wins Dem primary for Speaker Ryan's seat MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign who seized on voters’ desire to topple the political establishment.

But liberals had a good night across the board, particularly those who are closely aligned with Sanders and Our Revolution, the outgrowth of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who campaigned alongside Sanders, won the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s gubernatorial race.

In a key House primary in upstate New York, activist and professor Dana Balter defeated Navy veteran Juanita Perez Williams for the right to take on Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoProtesters confront Ivanka Trump on family separations Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Wild night of primaries reshapes 2018 midterms MORE (R).

The primary garnered outsized attention thanks to the clash between local and national Democrats. The House Democrats’ campaign arm recruited Perez Williams into the race at the last minute, despite local leaders and activists overwhelmingly backing Balter.

And in another New York House race, attorney Antonio Delgado won a crowded Democratic primary in the race to face Rep. John FasoJohn James FasoElection Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Progressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party Delgado wins Dem primary in N.Y. race to unseat Faso MORE (R-N.Y.).

Progressives have had plenty of notable wins during the primary season, which include more liberal candidates prevailing in California, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

But Sanders and his allies have also suffered a number of defeats this cycle, with national Democrats getting a number of their preferred candidates through the primaries. They focused their candidate recruitment — with the help of the Blue Dog Coalition — on finding more centrist candidates they believe fit the swing or GOP-leaning seats.

But liberal-leaning lawmakers are reading the tea leaves in Tuesday’s results and taking it as a sign that the party will move left in order to be more in step with their base. They also predicted that challenging the establishment will continue to be a dominating theme for Democrats this election cycle.

“It’s where voters are. It’s where the base is,” Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanHow Twitter vaulted 'Abolish ICE' into the mainstream Ocasio-Cortez tiptoes into Washington Gillibrand: 'We should get rid of ICE' if Dems flip House and Senate MORE (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told The Hill.

Progressive Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaFreedom Caucus ponders weakened future in minority Ocasio-Cortez tiptoes into Washington New Dem star to rattle DC establishment MORE (D-Calif.), a Silicon Valley–area lawmaker whose name has been floated for a future leadership slot, described the internal battle in the party as less about left versus center and more about new versus old. In Crowley’s primary, he endorsed both the sitting congressman and Ocasio-Cortez after pressure from progressives online.

“To me, it’s about anti-establishment, it’s about ‘let’s have new voices in there,’ it’s about a sense of a failed generation of congressional leadership,” Khanna told reporters. “I think that’s really the sentiment.”

Some election observers have likened the progressive surge to the Tea Party wave that swept the GOP back to power in 2010.

“Republicans in Washington learned where the energy was and learned how to lasso it and leverage it for victories up and down the map,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist and veteran of  New York politics.

But Reinish added that the Democratic Party’s changing identity is something “that Democrats are currently still grappling with, so again, the message to any leader, to any candidate: know where the energy is.”

The prospect of moving too far left, however, is sure to worry some establishment Democrats who think they have a better shot at taking back the House by winning over independents with more moderate candidates in GOP-leaning districts.

House Republicans seem to agree, with many thrilled that the primaries have produced several liberal-leaning candidates who they think will be easier to defeat in the midterms.

Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversTrump sends, deletes tweet urging Ohio voters to support candidate not in special election GOP rep: ‘Things are moving our way’ ahead of midterms Trump threatens government shutdown over border security MORE (Ohio), head of the House GOP’s campaign arm, said that the primary candidates who won in Katko’s and Faso’s districts are “going to have a much tougher time” in the general election.

Republicans have already seized on some Democratic nominees’ support for “Medicare for all” legislation, an effort championed by Sanders.

And earlier in the week, Republicans were quick to slam liberal Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPelosi: Trump engages in racism 'constantly' The Memo: Charlottesville anniversary puts Trump and race under microscope Dem senator: Trump wouldn't have criticized LeBron if he were white MORE (D-Calif.) for urging her supporters to confront Trump administration officials in public. They have painted Waters as the face of the Democratic Party — a clear effort to rile up their own base.

“I think what you’re seeing in the Democrat Party is that Maxine Waters and Bernie Sanders are becoming more and more the face of the Democrat Party,” Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, told Fox News.

“So that’s where you see the Democrat Party moving, and I think that certainly doesn’t bode well for them and their politics as they continue to move more and more to the socialist left.”

Pelosi, however, was quick to shoot down the notion that socialism is on the rise in the party.

“It’s ascendant in that district, perhaps,” Pelosi told reporters. “But I don’t accept any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans.”