- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2014

With a very real chance of being elected to Congress in November, New Jersey Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman makes no bones about the fact that she’s benefited heavily from a well-organized progressive machine that has begun to rival the tea party in its ability to hand-pick candidates and propel them into office.

Ms. Watson Coleman, a state legislator running for New Jersey’s open 12th Congressional District seat, is one of five Democratic candidates this cycle to triumph over a less-liberal primary opponent after being endorsed by the increasingly influential Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The 1-million-member group has backed candidates in Hawaii, Arizona and elsewhere across the country, each sharing one common denominator — that they adhere to pure progressive values and represent what the PCCC has proudly dubbed “the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.”

“Without PCCC’s help I don’t think I would’ve been able to get my message out,” Ms. Watson Coleman told reporters on a conference call Thursday as she prepares to face Republican Alieta Eck in the November general election.

Founded in 2009 by former organizers of MoveOn.org, the PCCC is at the forefront of what some political analysts say is a purity movement within the Democratic Party, similar in some ways to the evolution of the GOP in 2009 and 2010.

The organization and its candidates hold fast to a number of progressive ideals, and count Mrs. Warren, a first-term senator from Massachusetts, as their standard-bearer.

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Tighter regulations on Wall Street, a massive overhaul of the campaign finance system, and expansions of entitlement programs such as Social Security are among the group’s core tenets.

Thus far in the 2014 cycle, the PCCC also has helped candidates such as Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, Arizona congressional candidate Ruben Gallego and others fend off Democratic primary challengers deemed too conservative, or insufficiently liberal.

“These victories provide a template for how Democrats can excite voters this November by campaigning boldly on big ideas like expanding Social Security benefits, holding Wall Street accountable, reducing student debt and passing major political reform,” said Adam Green, one of the organization’s co-founders.

Specialists say there are obvious differences between the tea party and what’s happening in the progressive movement. Most notably, the tea party galvanized around anger and frustration with the Obama administration.

Progressives may have objections to some of what this White House has done, but they can’t rally around pure opposition to a Democratic president, according to analysts.

Still, the PCCC and other progressive groups have had success in getting their favored candidates into office and pushing a more liberal vision for the Democratic party.

“Right now, on the left, they’re not strong enough to nominate a McGovern. But they’re strong enough to tip a lot of congressional races,” said Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego who served as a consultant to the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns.

A staunch liberal and icon to many on the left, George McGovern was the Democratic party’s 1972 presidential nominee who was defeated soundly by President Richard Nixon.

There are other differences between the tea party and its burgeoning counterparts on the left.

While the tea party tended to target tenured incumbents and support little-known challengers with stronger conservative credentials, the PCCC has endorsed a number of candidates synonymous with the Washington establishment.

The group is strongly backing Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, for example, who has served in the Senate since 2007 and spent 16 years in the House before that.

It remains to be seen just how much power the PCCC and other progressive groups can wield in the 2014 midterms and, more importantly, the 2016 presidential election, but specialists say the movement likely will survive and grow for the foreseeable future — even if some of shine comes off Mrs. Warren and other liberal darlings.

In the end, activists within both parties always believe they can find a better, purer candidate, Mr. Popkin said.

“It won’t be [Mrs. Warren‘s] wing anymore. But it’ll be the same wing and there will be new people,” he said. “People are never as happy as they want to be.”

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