Dems fight to protect Mueller amid Rosenstein rumors
Insurgency shakes up Democratic establishment
Ayanna Pressley's stunning primary victory over veteran Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) is the latest sign that Democratic voters - energized and thirsty for change - are ready to topple even their own party establishment in order to get it.
The surprising outcome on Tuesday has electrified the Democrats' insurgent wing, which is clamoring for fresh faces, while posing new challenges for party leaders who are touting experience as a crucial counterweight to President Trump amid their efforts to take back the House.
Capuano is the second long-serving white, male Democrat to fall in a primary this summer to a minority, female challenger - a reflection of shifting demographics in certain blue districts, combined with an acute hunger for generational change and progressive ideas within the restive party.
On the same day as Capuano's defeat, 58-year-old Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel - another veteran of Democratic politics who faces a crowded field of challengers next year, including some attacking from the left - announced that he won't seek a third term.
"There is a fervor out there in the country for change," Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus who lost his June primary to another female minority candidate, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said Wednesday.
Crowley, who, like Capuano, is a 20-year veteran of Capitol Hill, cautioned against drawing too many correlations between the two primary contests, saying the outcome of both races was largely a function of changing demographics.
"You cannot look at this and say it's a cookie-cutter approach, that each district is the same," he said. "They're simply not."
Crowley lost his race by 15 percentage points, and Capuano fell 17 points short.
Crowley, 56, acknowledged a heightened degree of intensity and engagement within the party, particularly among female candidates and voters galvanized in their opposition to President Trump. While lamenting Capuano's defeat - and his own - he predicted the burst of energy will ultimately help the Democrats on the whole.
"I look at this all in a very positive way for our party and this November, because that's what it's all about," Crowley said. "It's not about me individually, it's not about Mike Capuano individually - he'd say the same thing. It's about winning in November, and we're focused on that and I think we're going to be successful."
In the "Year of the Woman," Democrats have taken the moniker to heart. Fueled by their opposition to the mercurial president, a historic number of female candidates will be on the ballot in November - many of them minorities.
Momentum is also decidedly with the party's liberal wing, putting pressure on Democratic incumbents - including those testing the 2020 presidential waters - and the leaders of the House, who were preparing for post-election turbulence even before the defeats of Crowley and Capuano.
With the 2020 Democratic primary season set to start in earnest post-midterms, potential presidential hopefuls are already starting to position themselves within the left flank of the party. And many of those are women and women of color like Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), a black former state attorney general, Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) - who are all frequently touted as possible contenders.
Pressley, the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, argued that she would better represent the deeply diverse House district than Capuano, a 66-year-old white man.
During her victory speech Tuesday night, the 44-year-old said her win was "for those who don't see themselves reflected in politics and government" and for those who are told "their issues, concerns and priorities can wait."
Other candidates of color who have come out on top in Democratic primary races this cycle include Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who upset a former congresswoman for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Florida last month. He will be the state's first African-American governor if he wins this fall.
And in Georgia's May primary, former state House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams cruised to victory over Stacey Evans, a white former state legislator who ran as more of a centrist. If elected, Abrams would be the first black woman to serve as governor in U.S. history.
The generational and demographic shifts within the party are also crucial to building coalitions that could power Democratic victories in the November midterms and in the 2020 presidential election against Trump.
Minority voters - specifically black women - have been influential constituencies that have contributed to Democrats' win in Virginia's 2017 governor's race as well as the massive upset in Alabama's Senate special election in December.
"One thing we're seeing across upset races is there's really a broad multiracial coalition generating support: young people of color, new voters largely ignored by previous campaigns," said Maria Urbina, national political director at the progressive group Indivisible. "When candidates like Pressley and Gillum win, it absolutely signals where the Democratic Party is headed."
Those same generational questions are hanging over the Democrats' leadership scramble as the battle for the House hangs in the balance. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insists she'll run again for the party's top leadership role, but the 78-year-old lawmaker is certain to face opposition from younger lawmakers looking to ascend.
Plus, dozens of Democratic candidates say they won't vote for Pelosi for Speaker if they're part of a blue wave that flips House control in their favor.
While anti-establishment fervor has toppled some incumbents - and kept some lawmakers from getting promotions to higher office - only four House members have suffered primary defeats this cycle. On top of Capuano and Crowley, GOP Reps. Mark Sanford (S.C.) and Robert Pittenger (N.C.) were also ousted by challengers within their own party.
Given the small number of primary upsets, some lawmakers are quick to reject the notion that an anti-establishment wave is crashing down on Congress this year.
"Is there this underlying sense of, 'We need something more,' in some places? Yeah, I think that's undeniable," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "But to call it a trend you've really got to start cherry-picking because of all these other districts where it hasn't happened - including in Massachusetts."
Indeed, several other veteran Massachusetts Democrats faced primary challenges Tuesday, and all prevailed easily - including Rep. Stephen Lynch, whose district neighbors Capuano's.
Back in March, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), a Blue Dog Democrat who opposes abortion rights, won a tough primary against a progressive female candidate. And Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), a one-time Trump critic who rescinded her endorsement of him in 2016, beat back a primary runoff against a former congressman.
Still, progressives are hoping the energy that swept over Massachusetts on Tuesday will have a ripple effect in the remaining primaries on the calendar.
In Delaware's Thursday primary, Democrat Kerri Evelyn Harris, a gay, black Air Force veteran, is seeking to unseat Sen. Tom Carper (D) in his first serious primary challenge since taking office in 2001.
Carper, 71, has held office in either Delaware or Washington since 1977. He's a moderate Democrat who's getting pushback from Harris, 38, and progressives for what they describe as a cozy relationship with corporations and the pharmaceutical industry.
And New York's governor's race has gotten heightened attention since actress Cynthia Nixon jumped into the Sept. 13 primary to challenge Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the left.
Crowley said there's every reason for Democrats to be optimistic about the future, given the renewed interest in politics - and competitiveness of primary races - under Trump.
"We can look at this as sad for Michael [Capuano] ... and at the same time look at the positives for the country, in terms of the engagement and the activity that it's causing, and the fervor that's out there," Crowley said. "And I think in the long run that's good for us."