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.
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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-CortezLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' MORE, who rode a bare-bones campaign to a stunning victory. In another upset, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility Tlaib opens up about why she hasn't endorsed Biden yet MORE ousted Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoInside the progressive hunt for vulnerable House Democrats Progressive mayor launches primary challenge to top Ways and Means Democrat Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm 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 LipinskiBottom line How a progressive populist appears to have toppled Engel House to pass sweeping police reform legislation 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 SchakowskyDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Democrats introduce bill to repeal funding ban on abortions abroad Trade negotiations mustn't short-circuit domestic debate MORE (D-Ill.), then-Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (I-Vt.).
 
Newman told supporters this month that she's exploring another run in 2020. 
 
Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosRep. Steve Watkins loses Kansas primary after voter fraud charges Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits DCCC adds six candidates to program aimed at flipping GOP-held seats 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 TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary 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 OmarLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Police committed 125 human rights violations during Floyd protests: Amnesty Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause 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 ClayLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war Intercept's Ryan Grim on primaries in Missouri, Michigan and Washington state 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.