Two House Democrats in safe Democratic seats used a party-sponsored video call with donors on Wednesday to solicit help against progressive challengers, according to a Democrat present on the call.
The appeals from Reps. Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles and Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas ― both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus ― took place mere hours after the left-wing group Justice Democrats announced its support for a primary challenge against Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, a fellow progressive caucus member.
The conversation offers insight into how incumbent Democrats in deep-blue areas think about the activist left and use the resources of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ official campaign arm, to fight off competition within the party.
“It definitely shows the robustness of left-wing organizing, at least on a congressional level, in some of these more progressive districts,” the Democrat on the video call, who requested anonymity for fear of professional reprisal, told HuffPost.
The Wednesday-afternoon confab, which took place on Zoom, was billed by the DCCC as a chance for five so-called Frontline members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to address an audience of Democratic donors.
Every election cycle, the DCCC releases a list of vulnerable incumbents that the House campaign arm calls its “Frontline Program.” The idea behind the list is to signal to donors, outside groups and activists that House Democrats see those members as in need of the most help.
Sure enough, three of the Hispanic caucus members on the call are Frontline members in swing seats that Republicans are sure to target: Reps. Mike Levin of California, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, and Antonio Delgado of New York.
They each gave their pitch to donors for help in their general-election battles.
When Escobar and Gomez, who are not Frontline members, spoke, they asked for early assistance fending off challenges from the left, according to the Democrat present on the call.
Escobar kept her comments general, simply requesting the donors’ support. (She did not have a primary challenger in 2020 and won the general election with nearly 65% of the vote.)
But Gomez went into detail, telling donors he’s “in a very tough race,” the Democrat said.
Gomez speculated that he elicited the ire of the activist left for continuing to accept donations from corporate political action committees.
He also suggested that in his 2020 race, his progressive white constituents may have gravitated toward Asian American challenger David Kim because they see Asians as a greater minority in the district than Latinos.
The population in California’s 34th Congressional District, which Gomez has represented since a 2017 special election, is 60% Latino and 20% Asian, according to U.S. census data.
Gomez’s predicament is admittedly different than that of other safe-seat Democrats because of California’s nonpartisan “jungle” primary system. State rules require the top two vote-getters in the primary to proceed to the general election, regardless of those candidates’ parties.
It’s a system that leads to scenarios like the one Gomez faced this past November, when Kim, a Democrat backed by a local chapter of the progressive group Our Revolution, came within 6 points of defeating Gomez. Kim, an immigration attorney, indeed made his refusal to accept corporate PAC money a major part of his run against Gomez.
The comment about blaming progressive white voters … was pretty shocking.
Democrat present on video call with donors
But it’s unclear if Gomez, who the source said also expressed optimism that his district would include more Latinos after redistricting, is putting forth an accurate demographic analysis.
During California’s 2020 Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won 54% of the vote in Gomez’s district on his way to winning the state as a whole. Sanders’ dominance among California Latinos under age 60 was a key ingredient to his success, according to a CNN exit poll.
“The comment about blaming progressive white voters … was pretty shocking,” the Democrat said. “Everything else was ordinary Democrat-speak.”
Spokespeople for Gomez and Escobar did not respond to requests for confirmation of the remarks and any additional comments.
The incident also shines a light on the DCCC as it seeks to mend fences with an activist left that sees the party apparatus as a hostile force.
In recognition of the concerns of safe-seat members whose dues fuel the campaign arm, the DCCC in March 2019 barred consultants and other vendors it hires from working for candidates challenging incumbent House Democrats. This DCCC blacklist galvanized the left against the party, fostered the growth of a new ecosystem of progressive consultants, and prompted charges of hypocrisy as the party failed to protect a progressive incumbent from a centrist challenger whose vendors used shell companies to circumvent the blacklist.
In a gesture of goodwill, new DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York formally ended the blacklist in March.
The DCCC has not, however, abandoned its mission to protect incumbent House Democrats from internal party challenges.
DCCC spokesperson Chris Taylor did not deny any element of this story when asked.
“We are going to ensure Democratic incumbents have the resources they need to return to Congress to continue delivering for the American people,” Taylor said.
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