The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Friday that it will not hire any private political vendors that provide services to Democratic primary challengers, and it will discourage individual House Democrats from doing so as well.
The announcement, first reported by The Intercept and National Journal, is a shot across the bow to insurgent candidates and the firms that work with them. It applies broadly to firms that do polling, advertising, digital consulting, fundraising and field organizing.
The DCCC’s new policy, which it sent to over 100 political firms on Friday, also laid out new diversity requirements aimed at ensuring the party employs firms that reflect its voters’ diversity along racial, gender and other lines.
A statement from DCCC Executive Director Allison Jaslow focused on the diversity efforts, rather than the blacklisting of firms.
“The DCCC is responsible for protecting and growing our House majority, but I also know that we have the ability to set the course for the future of the Democratic party while we’re doing that,” Jaslow said. “Our voters are diverse, we are actively recruiting candidates to ensure their elected officials better reflect them, and we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure the political professionals we work with do so as well.”
Despite the nod to diversity, the move appears designed to tamp down on growing anti-establishment energy in the left wing of the party. In the 2018 midterm elections, two progressives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), succeeded in ousting two Democratic incumbents, sending shockwaves through the party establishment.
But the DCCC notes that the policy would apply equally to protecting left-leaning incumbents like Reps. Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) as it would to more conservative House members like Dan Lipinski (Ill.).
Lipinski, an abortion rights opponent and immigration hardliner, was the target of a spirited ― if ultimately unsuccessful ― primary challenge in March 2018. Some more moderate groups and individuals have mused about the possibility of challenging Ocasio-Cortez and Omar from the right.
The ban would also not prevent the DCCC from partnering with groups like EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which are not themselves political vendors but may have contracted with vendors that assisted primary challengers.
The new rules would also still allow individual House Democrats or House candidates to hire firms that work with primary challengers if they choose to do so. The firms would simply not be on the DCCC’s “preferred” vendor list.
The DCCC emphasizes that as an organization, it is singularly dedicated to protecting Democrats’ majority in the House. But some progressive critics of the decision note that left-wing groups have only sought to target incumbent Democrats in deep blue districts, ensuring that their work would not jeopardize the Democratic majority.
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, which was active in Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley’s primary wins, claimed that the party campaign arm preferred conservative Democrats like Lipinski and Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) over “a new, diverse generation of courageous leadership.” Justice Democrats is recruiting candidates to try to challenge Cuellar in 2020.
One Democratic strategist said that while it’s understandable the DCCC wants to protect its incumbents, it was a bad idea to blacklist firms that work with challengers. There are only a limited number of races, and the party already tends to work with the established firms.
“It’s bad for them, and everyone else, long-term to cut off new and young people and consultants,” he said. “Any bigger or established firm now got its start challenging someone.”
Barring upstart firms, which may be more diverse, could also end up undermining the DCCC’s commitment to diversity, the strategist said. The Democratic Governors Association, which helps elect and re-elect Democratic governors, does not have a similar policy.
Faced with an insurgency several years earlier than Democrats, however, national Republicans took similarly dramatic steps to punish those who would aid primary challengers. In 2013, the National Republican Senatorial Committee barred the firm Jamestown Associates from receiving any NRSC contracts, after Jamestown consulted for the Senate Conservatives Fund, which tried to oust Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
A national Republican strategist applauded his Democratic counterparts for learning from the GOP’s difficulties with an aggressive anti-establishment wing.
“Republicans spent three cycles figuring this out. Democrats have the benefit of seeing what we eventually figured out,” the strategist said. “This might help them defeat the lunacy faster.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Kevin Robillard and Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.