Democrats must stop sabotaging candidates who can win in 2018

Democrats must stop sabotaging candidates who can win in 2018
© Getty Images

When you run a national political committee like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, you need to very careful about publicly putting your thumb on the scales during a contested Democratic primary.

As a former chairman of the DCCC, I rarely am rarely critical about anything the committee does because I generally think they do a difficult job very well.

However, the DCCC made a major blunder this week by trying to sabotage the campaign of Laura Moser in the 7th congressional district in the Texas Democratic primary. Their public attack on her backfired. It permitted her to raise a significant amount of money online, and she qualified for a May runoff by finishing second.

ADVERTISEMENT
Unfortunately, they are in the process of making the same mistake again by trying to undercut the campaign of Amy McGrath in the 6th district of Kentucky.

I met Amy a year ago when I was speaking to government classes at the Naval Academy. The professor who invited me to the campus suggested I talk to a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps on the Naval Academy staff who was about to retire after 20 years of military service and return to her home state of Kentucky to run for Congress against an incumbent Republican Congressman Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrOcasio-Cortez knocks Republican over Kentucky trip: 'GOP thought they could catch us with a bluff' Overnight Energy: Collins receives more donations from Texas oil, gas industry than from Maine residents | Interior chief left meetings off schedule | Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to coal mine War of words over Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to Kentucky coal mine MORE.

I spent an hour with Amy and came away impressed that she could be a very credible candidate in a pro-Trump district in a conservative state. During my four years as DCCC chairman, I interviewed quite a few prospective candidates. Amy was one of the most impressive I had ever met.

Her story is quite compelling. She spent her entire career flying fighter jets, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, after being told as a teen by her local congressman that women couldn’t fly jets in combat. She was indeed a trailblazer for other women.

Moreover, she had a good grasp of politics and had the potential to be a natural candidate. I told her the same thing I always told candidates. Go home, establish a political campaign organization, and be prepared to raise a million dollars to get her campaign off the ground.

Amy did exactly what I recommended. She retired from the Marine Corps in early summer, moved her family (husband and three children) back to Kentucky, and hired a first-rate media firm (Putnam Partners) to help launch her campaign. By the middle of summer, they had produced a terrific announcement video, which went viral and helped her raise $1 million. She, of course, let the DCCC know about her plans and her progress.

However, the DCCC had its own agenda and spent months trying to recruit Jim Gray, an openly gay millionaire businessman who was serving as mayor of Lexington, Kentucky. By all press accounts, Mayor Gray had been a reluctant candidate, but the DCCC stayed after him until he agreed to run and announced his candidacy in November. The DCCC made no secret of its preference for Mayor Gray.

What’s wrong with this picture? First, Amy McGrath had already made a big splash as a candidate and had been working on her campaign for months. Second, it’s not rocket science to figure out that an articulate, smart female Marine was an excellent fit for a conservative congressional district in a Southern state. Third, it is clear that women are highly motivated to vote this year because of their dislike for Trump and will rally around qualified women running for public office.

So, we now have a situation where national party leaders in Washington are attempting to sabotage the campaigns of two women running for office in Texas and Kentucky. This is despite the fact that there is a strong anti-establishment mood in the country and strong sentiment for more women in public office.

During the time I was chairman of the DCCC, we quietly behind the scenes encouraged good candidates to run, particularly when we didn’t have anyone capable running against a Republican we wanted to defeat. However, that was not the case in either of these districts this year.

A little unsolicited advice to party leaders: Be careful not to publicly get too far out in front in an anti-establishment year like 2018.

Martin Frost represented the 24th district of Texas in Congress from 1979 to 2005. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1995 to 1999.