Liberal activists are furious that the House Democrats’ campaign committee is refusing to do business with consultants who work against incumbent Democrats — but the pollsters and strategists affected say the snub might prove to be a blessing.
Several of those likely to end up on the wrong side of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new rule say they will no longer feel beholden to the party’s establishment and will have the chance to grow on their own.
“You’re creating a market for people that are running challenger candidates,” said Sykes Global Communications President Michael Oliva, who worked with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her stunning 2018 upset victory in New York.
Wilnelia Rivera, a lead architect of Rep. Ayana Pressley’s 2018 upset victory in Massachusetts, said the DCCC did not welcome the insurgent campaign operatives anyway, so the new rule is making official what they already suspected.
“We knew we could never compete viably for those kinds of contracts,” Ms. Rivera told The Washington Times. “It’s interesting that I’ve never felt included.”
The two consultants said the DCCC is feeding into a simmering intraparty battle over how much dissent will be tolerated.
Insurgent campaigns such as those of Ms. Pressley and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez were major storylines last year, and liberal activists were already drawing up lists of incumbent Democrats whom they want to oust in 2020.
Looking to head off those efforts, the DCCC announced its new rules last month. The committee said its chief goal is to defend Democrats’ power in the House, and that means supporting incumbents.
Doing business with operatives in some races while trying to unseat incumbent Democrats in other races is counterproductive, the DCCC said.
“We have a policy that is the most diverse vendor policy in the history of the political arm of House Democrats, and it promotes diversity in our member ranks, and I’m very, very proud of that,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos told The Washington Times.
Reaction has been fierce within liberal circles.
On Thursday, activists announced DCCCBlacklist.com, a website aimed at connecting potential primary challengers with consulting firms willing to buck the DCCC rules.
“As a loyal Democrat and proud progressive, I believe that we don’t just need more Democrats in Congress; we also need better Democrats in Congress,” said Rebecca Katz, founder of New Deal Strategies, a liberal communications firm. Ms. Katz said she would be happy to work with primary challengers.
“If that means getting blacklisted by the DCCC, then so be it,” she said.
Ms. Bustos’ move has also ignited a fierce debate among congressional Democrats.
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, Louisiana Democrat, praised Ms. Bustos’ firm stance to Politico this week. “We don’t have time for games,” he said.
That irked some lawmakers, who said they wanted to keep the dispute “in the family.”
“It is not playing games for the Democratic Party to be inclusive of all its members perspectives,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “I have refrained from commenting publicly on this issue until now, but I am extremely disappointed that there is no movement on this issue.”
Liberal groups that cheered on party primaries last year already had sights set on some Democratic incumbents in 2020. They said the party was circling the wagons around people who are out of touch with activists who are driving the agenda.
The groups said it was particularly outrageous for the party to use money to stifle ideas.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill said the DCCC could block candidates who have historically had a tougher time getting campaign support.
“I believe fiercely in the potential of our party, but we cannot credibly lay claim to prioritizing diversity & inclusion when institutions like the DCCC implement policies that threaten to silence new voices and historically marginalized communities,” Ms. Pressley tweeted.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez went so far as to call for her supporters to temporarily stop donating to the DCCC and give directly to candidates in swing districts.
The DCCC is one of three big national party operations. The others are the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Consultants said they haven’t heard of either of those other committees enacting a plan like the DCCC’s. Neither of the two other committees responded to questions from The Times.
Ms. Rivera said the DCCC’s focus on holding power is out of step with what the party’s faithful want.
“Win or lose, we end up winning because we can debate ideas,” she said. “Voters want to be engaged in concrete ideas.”
Reports that are circulating say the DCCC’s strategy is working.
The Intercept said that in the hours after the committee’s announcement last month, one Democrat considering a primary had two consultants back away, and the candidate was pondering forgoing a run altogether.
• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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