Bipartisan 'No Labels' group aims to protect moderates in primary fights

Bipartisan 'No Labels' group aims to protect moderates in primary fights
© Greg Nash

The bipartisan No Labels group is looking to expand its fight for political moderates to more than a dozen primaries this year after being emboldened by Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiYoung Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 jitters hit both parties in the Senate Justice Democrats issues 3 new endorsements for progressive candidates MORE’s (D-Ill.) primary victory last week. 

No Labels is planning an aggressive effort to spend tens of millions of dollars to protect moderates in both parties from primary challenges, in an attempt to give incumbents incentives not to cater to the party grass roots who typically dominate primary contests. 

No Labels says its fight to save moderates in both parties is vital to combatting Washington gridlock. 

“Most people in Congress don’t care what most people think. What they care about is what is the narrow slice of their primary voters — which, for about 9 of 10 Congress-people, is the only election that matters — what do they think?” said Ryan Clancy, the chief strategist at No Labels. 

“Until the center gets some political organization, until it has some capacity to fend off the influence of the extremes on both sides, there’s no realistic way out of this mess.”

Lipinski, a Blue Dogs co-chair and staunch opponent of abortion rights, has often clashed with his caucus on issues like ObamaCare and the DREAM Act. Lipinski barely won his primary on Tuesday night after a strong challenge from Marie Newman, a first-time candidate who was backed from the left.

A coalition of major progressive groups like MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America joined in to spend more than $1.6 million to paint Lipinski as a “Democrat-in-name-only” and build out an effort for Newman on the ground. 

The group’s ads compared Lipinski to President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE, highlighting Lipinski’s votes against benefits for same-sex marriages and against allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest.

No Labels countered with a nine-month, $1 million effort boosting Lipinski through its allied super PAC, United for Progress. The super PAC spent money on voter targeting, placed media, mailers, digital ads and a get-out-the-vote campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

While Newman lost the primary, her strong showing against an incumbent — Lipinski won by just two percentage points — has encouraged progressives who say Democrats will win by embracing liberal values.

Ilyse Hogue, a top Newman ally who heads the pro-abortion rights NARAL, compared the primary to the progressive push that defeated then-Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary after he supported the Iraq War. Lieberman, running as an independent after his primary loss, ultimately won reelection anyway.

“The strength of Marie Newman’s campaign, which stood true to her beliefs and loyal to the progress America is making, will bring a new reckoning,” Hogue wrote in a piece on Medium.

“As an elected official, when you turn your back on our shared values and our essential human rights, voters will hold you accountable  —  no matter how long you’ve been in office."

But the No Labels team disagrees, arguing that Lipinski’s victory in the face of an unprecedented spending campaign against him proves there’s still room for moderates in the Democratic Party.

“We proved that even a Democrat who is centrist but also has some of these outside-the-mainstream social positions, even someone with that profile can survive and thrive in the Democratic primary,” said Matt Kalmans, a strategist advising the broader No Labels effort, which is called “Country Forward.”

The United for Progress super PAC is housed under that Country Forward umbrella.

“Going back to 2010 with the Tea Party wave, there’s this narrative that there’s all this energy on the far left and on the far right,” Kalmans added.

“This election is strong proof for the fact that if you engage with voters that don’t fall into either of those corners and you explain to them that their congressman is doing something for them, they’ll pick that person every day of the week.”

Neither strategist would go into detail as to which races they are planning to target in the future, for fears of tipping off opponents. But they said that the No Labels effort plans to get involved in more than a dozen primary races that meet one of three criteria. 

First, Country Forward plans to protect members of the moderate House Problem Solvers Caucus, lawmakers considered sympathetic to the No Labels cause who could face tough primary challenges.

Second, they’ll target primaries in open seats where a candidate who might be a good fit for the Problem Solvers Caucus faces what Clancy referred to as a “flamethrower” opponent.

And they may back challenges to incumbents that No Labels considers obstructionists.

The 2018 cycle isn’t Country Forward’s first experience at electoral politics. The group successfully helped to knock off then-Rep. Tim HuelskampTimothy (Tim) Alan HuelskampCure for cancer would become more likely if FDA streamlined the drug approval process Emails show climate change skeptics tout ‘winning’ under Trump Trump administration's reforms could make welfare work again MORE (R-Kan.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who lost his 2016 primary against a Republican rival who pitched himself as a more pragmatic choice. And they helped now-Rep. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoHouse passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans House fails to pass temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Former state House candidate says she made up story about removing 77 bullets from Pulse shooting victims MORE (D-Fla.) in his open seat contest that year, as well. 

The focus on primaries comes as many members of the Problem Solvers Caucus face tough reelection bids. 

Republican Reps. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (Colo.), Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloHead of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Lobbying world Overnight Energy: Park Service closing Joshua Tree after shutdown damage | Dems deliver trash from parks to White House | Dems offer bills to block offshore drilling | Oil lobby worries about Trump trade fight MORE (Pa.), Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Democratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Ensuring quality health care for those with intellectual disabilities and autism House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad MORE (Pa.), John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoRepublicans should get behind the 28th Amendment Student loan borrowers are defaulting yearly — how can we fix it? Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (N.Y.), Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE (N.J.), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE (Mich.) and David YoungDavid Edmund YoungChurches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Iowa Democrat calls foul on White House over Trump ethanol tour invite MORE (Iowa) are all listed on the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s list of competitive House races.

So are Democratic members of the caucus: Reps. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban Democrats call for Pelosi to cut recess short to address white nationalism MORE (N.J.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemocratic leaders seek to have it both ways on impeachment Senate committee advances 'deepfakes' legislation House Democrats delete tweets attacking each other, pledge to unify MORE (Fla.) and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.).

A Democratic wave in November could bring down a number of Republican members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. But No Labels doesn’t plan to get involved in general elections, believing that focusing on primary fights will help the group avoid angering either party.

“The goal is not to oppose the parties, the goal is not to be hostile to Democrats or Republicans,” Clancy said.
 
“The goal is to ensure that in every race around the country where there’s a fight between someone who is eminently consensus-oriented and has a record of working collaboratively to actually achieve things, and someone who is running on a policy of obstruction, that we promote the former and try to defeat the latter.”