Dems seek to stifle primary challenges to incumbents

House Democrats' campaign arm on Friday took an official step to protect sitting lawmakers, warning would-be campaign vendors that the party won't award contracts to political firms working for primary challengers.
 
With its new policy, posted Friday morning, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said its "core mission" is to keep and grow the party's newly won House majority, "which includes supporting and protecting incumbents."
 
"To that end, the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus," the policy reads.
ADVERTISEMENT
 
The effort is an attempt to pre-empt a short but growing list of potential primary hopefuls, as well as the groups supporting them, from retaining the help of top-tier polling and consulting firms in bids to oust sitting lawmakers.
 
The issue has gained new scrutiny following last year's midterm elections, when the powerful chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), lost his primary to a little-known challenger, Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezWarren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 Ocasio-Cortez knocks Republican over Kentucky trip: 'GOP thought they could catch us with a bluff' Ocasio-Cortez releases 'Green New Deal' short film MORE, who rode a bare-bones campaign to a stunning victory. In another upset, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHillary Clinton celebrates Indivisible founders' inclusion on Time 100 list Congress might finally fix the holes in workplace sexual harassment law Dems unveil anti-workplace harassment bill MORE ousted Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoHillary Clinton celebrates Indivisible founders' inclusion on Time 100 list Progressive Dem lays into party over new policy: I'm really disappointed Progressives hammer DCCC over blacklist targeting primary challenges MORE — who, like Crowley, was a 20-year veteran of Capitol Hill — in a Massachusetts primary.
 
The liberal groups that supported Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley, and are now eyeing challenges to centrist incumbents this cycle, were quick to blast the DCCC's new policy on Friday, accusing the Democrats of using their financial muscle to stifle the energy of the surging liberal base. 
 
"The DCCC is using financial leverage to try and stop leaders like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rising in the party through primary challenges," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the Justice Democrats, a liberal advocacy group, said in a statement.
 
María Urbina, national political director of Indivisible, another liberal group, went a step further, saying the new hiring standards will discourage the political participation of minorities.
 
"This is another example of the DCCC looking to maintain the status quo and hoard power," Urbina said Friday. "This historic class of women, especially women of color, wouldn't have been ushered in if they'd waited their turn. 
 
"This works to incentivize Congress staying white and male."
 
With an eye at avoiding that issue, the DCCC is also adopting new diversity standards for its vendors, which must demonstrate a commitment to empowering minorities to win a contract. Toward that end, vendors must meet one of five reported criteria, including having women, veterans or minorities in ownership roles or constituting a significant portion of the firm's staff. The aim is both to empower minorities in a field long dominated by white men and to ensure the vendors reflect the voters and candidates in the districts they're working to win.
 
Justice Democrats are already seeking a primary challenger to take on Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Blue Dog Texas Democrat, and they're eyeing races against other centrists around the country. 
 
Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiProgressive Dem launches second challenge against Illinois Rep. Lipinski Lobbying world Liberals infuriated by pro-incumbent House Dem policy MORE (D-Ill.), another centrist who has long angered liberal activists for his staunch opposition to abortion, is also on the radar of the activist groups hoping to bring more progressive voices to Capitol Hill. Lipinski survived a tough primary challenge last year from Marie Newman, who had the support of women's reproductive health groups like NARAL, as well as the endorsement of several liberal lawmakers, including Reps. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Bipartisan group asks DHS, ICE to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals FTC has received 26,000 complaints about Facebook privacy violations since 2012 MORE (D-Ill.), then-Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms MORE (I-Vt.).
 
Newman told supporters this month that she's exploring another run in 2020. 
 
Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea Bustos2020 is the Democrats' to lose — and they very well may DCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk MORE (D-Ill.), who leads the DCCC, forecast the party's new policy earlier in the month, characterizing the DCCC as "an incumbent-friendly organization" that will fight to protect its own. 
 
"I would prefer that, as far as Democrats go, that we just work together, and we make sure that our colleagues can come back, and that we do what we can to pick up additional seats," she said in an interview from the party's campaign headquarters just off of Capitol Hill. 
 
"Dan Lipinski is pro-life, but he's also a longtime member of the House of Representatives, and he's been a reliable vote on the vast majority of our issues," she added.
 
The activist groups are rejecting that argument, saying it's more important to bring to Washington the kinds of lawmakers who will fight to realize the progressives' ambitious policy agenda, including a Medicare for All health care system, a Green New Deal to tackle climate change and a scaling back of the tax cuts enacted by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE and Republicans in late 2017. 
 
The DCCC's move to blacklist firms that serve primary challengers, they maintain, will only help Republicans.
 
"The Democratic Party establishment is sending a signal that they are more afraid of Ayanna Pressley and Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez winning primary challenges than Dan Lipinski or Henry Cuellar who votes with Trump nearly 70% of the time," said Rojas.
 
"The DCCC is trying to further entrench a consultant class that won’t challenge the big corporate donors and powers that are sitting at the top of the Democratic Party." 
 
Centrists are not the only group of lawmakers facing potential primary challenges this cycle. The liberal Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGeorgia freshman Dem does not list Omar donation on election filing O'Rourke sweeps through Virginia looking to energize campaign Dem candidate in contested North Carolina race refunds donation from Omar campaign MORE (D-Minn.), who has come under fire for a series of remarks deemed by many to be anti-Semitic, is also facing a potential intraparty fight this year, as some Minnesota Democrats are scrambling to find a Democrat to take her on
 
The DCCC's new policy ensures that any challenger, from the left or right, would face new obstacles to ousting incumbents. Aside from highlighting intraparty divisions during the primary season, such challengers have also created some tension between some veteran lawmakers and the newcomers who defeated their old colleagues. 
 
Still others say they've moved on. Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayDivided Dems look to regroup John Lewis is endorsement every Dem candidate wants Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (D-Mo.), who last year faced a primary opponent endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, dismissed the idea that there are lingering tensions from that fight.
 
"Look, she came last year. Campaigned against me. I beat her," he said Monday during a press event in his district. "And I’ve turned the page." 
 
Updated: 4 p.m.