Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits

Democrats have recruited one of their most diverse slate of candidates for a prized program that targets top flip opportunities across the country. 

Of the 31 members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) Red to Blue program, 26 are women and 12 are people of color. Earning a spot provides candidates with a boost, including extra attention from national Democrats and access to expanded resources and fundraising opportunities.

Wins by the recruits would add to what is already the most diverse House majority in history after Democrats took over the chamber in 2018 with a class that included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), who was among the first Native American women in Congress.

It also comes as protests against racial injustice and the #MeToo movement have become key issues in the lead-up to the election in November and after DCCC and Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) clashed last year with minority caucuses over the lack of diversity at the top ranks of the campaign arm of House Democrats.

“Diversifying our party is not just a top priority, it’s an ongoing priority,” said Bustos. “Our work means we can grow the historic diversity of our caucus, and it would not be possible without a DCCC staff and team that reflect the Democratic coalition we represent.”

The increased recruitment of diverse candidates comes after a cycles-long lobbying campaign by lawmakers, including those in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as top party leadership, to diversify the list.

Caucuses like the CBC and CHC have mainly focused on looking for minority candidates who were previously ignored by the national party. 

Those efforts paid off in the 2018 midterms, which helped disprove the notion that candidates of color could only stand a chance in majority-minority districts.

Key wins include the likes of former Red to Blue member Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), an African American and Hispanic candidate running in his first race who ousted former Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) in the 19th District to the south of Albany.

The 2018 Red to Blue list also consisted of a slate of white candidates who now make up several of the House majority’s frontline members, including Reps. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

“As we continue our campaign efforts ahead of November, we refuse to lose sight of how we won 39 new seats in 2018, securing our Congressional majority and electing the most diverse class of House Democrats in history — these victories would not have been possible without the intentional diversification of our Committee’s investments in campaigns across America,” said Rep. Don McEachin (D-Va.), a co-chair of the Red to Blue program.

This year’s Red to Blue list is already more diverse than in 2018, when roughly half of the candidates were women and just over a fifth were candidates of color. 

“We started to really see some success in this cycle, particularly given the last cycle and showing that if you put the resources behind these candidates who happen to be African American that they can win, and they can win no matter what the racial components of their districts are because they can represent anybody,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the chair of CBC’s campaign arm, said in an interview.

“It does away with the theory,” he added, “that for an African American to be elected to Congress, they have to come from a district that was 60 percent African American.”

“This is a work in progress, but I’m pleased with where we’re at,” said Meeks of this year’s list.

The lion’s share of the Democrats included in the Red to Blue program are running in the same kinds of urban and suburban districts where the party found success in its 2018 wave, though some are running in more rural areas.

Among them are Georgia Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux running in Georgia’s 7th District. Bourdeaux, a professor, lost her race against Rep. Rob Woodall (R) by about 400 votes in the Atlanta-area district two years ago. She is now running against Republican physician Rich McCormick after Woodall’s retirement, in a race rated as a “toss-up” by non-partisan political prognosticator The Cook Political Report.

Also on the list are five candidates in Texas, a state that is becoming increasingly competitive for Democrats. They include Sima Ladjevardian in a Houston-area district, former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis in a district near San Antonio, Sri Kulkarni outside Houston, and Gina Ortiz Jones who is running for a border seat held by retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R). 

The DCCC made its most recent additions earlier this month when it placed six more women, including three women of color, on Red to Blue.

“Being on the Red-to-Blue list means my campaign is on a highly selective list of top-targeted races. This is a signal that Ohio voters are responding to our campaign as we build the infrastructure to flip this seat,” said Desiree Tims, who is challenging Rep. Mike Turner (R) in Ohio’s 10th District and is among the most recent additions.

Still, Democrats believe the party can do more to further diversify the party, especially after the clash at the DCCC last year that led to a major staff shakeup. Bustos back then acknowledged “mistakes” and that the group had “fallen short” on diversity among senior staff. 

Some lawmakers are pushing to include more women and minority candidates, such as Ammar Campa-Najjar, the Democrat running against former Rep. Darrell Issa (R) in California’s 50th District, which was represented by former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) until he resigned after pleading guilty to a charge of corruption.

Campa-Najjar, who is of Mexican and Palestinian descent, narrowly lost against Hunter in 2018 and has proven to be a strong fundraiser in 2020, raking in $700,000 in the second quarter of the year. He is backed by BOLD PAC, the CHC’s campaign arm, which is pushing for Campa-Najjar to also be included in Red to Blue.

“Ammar’s efforts have made CA-50 a battleground district and that’s why BOLD PAC will continue to encourage the DCCC to add Ammar to Red to Blue. He’s earned it. When we stand behind candidates who can win, the American people win. Ammar has proven he has what it takes to flip this seat,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who chairs the CHC’s campaign arm, told The Hill.

Republicans have also made efforts to diversify their party, pointing out that of the 21 candidates currently the equivalent Young Guns program, 12 are women and 6 are members of a minority group.

GOP officials also hit Democratic candidates as being too liberal for the country.

“The DCCC’s idea of diversity seems to be recruiting both cop-hating Marxists and run of the mill socialists to run for House seats,” NRCC spokesman Bob Salera said.

But Democrats tout they have a far more diverse caucus and crop of candidates, which they believe is critical at a time when events such as the death of George Floyd have sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.

Of the 31 candidates in the Red to Blue program alone, all but three of them are looking to unseat or replace white lawmakers who are either running for reelection or retiring.

“The whole world is looking at what is taking place right now. So it is significantly important both nationally and internationally, I think, and it will help us to regain the leadership that we need on a national and international level as we deal with racial disparities,” Meeks said.

Tags Abigail Spanberger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Antonio Delgado Cheri Bustos Cindy Axne Darrell Issa Duncan Hunter Gina Ortiz Jones Gregory Meeks John Faso Mike Turner Rob Woodall Sharice Davids Will Hurd

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