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Democratic Party Leaders Are Shunning Some Progressives in Tight Midterm Races

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has only given $179 to Texas congressional candidate Michelle Vallejo.

Michelle Vallejo is polling just a tenth of a percentage point behind her Republican opponent, yet has received conspicuously little support from Democratic leadership.

Josh Gottheimer has held New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District seat since he first won it in 2016. The district stretches through northern New Jersey, from the tonier parts of Manhattan-adjacent Bergen County into some of the more rural areas on the state’s western flank. His tenure has been defined both by his unflinchingly centrist record and his powerhouse fundraising capability. Since 2016, he has raised over $27.5 million in his campaigns for Congress.

All the while, Gottheimer has enjoyed running in a safe blue district, routinely winning his elections by comfortable margins. And although he currently has about $14 million on hand, Gottheimer has still received $5,322 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) this year.

Meanwhile, in Texas’s 15th Congressional District, Michelle Vallejo has gotten just $179 from the DCCC. Vallejo shocked political prognosticators in the March primary when she narrowly defeated Ruben Ramirez, an establishment-friendly candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing representative. While the district is considered to be politically moderate, Vallejo won her primary on a platform that called for a massive Medicare expansion, a $15 per hour minimum wage, and free community colleges and trade schools.

Now, Vallejo is in an extraordinarily tight race against Monica De La Cruz, the Republican nominee. In a year where Democrats are desperate to cling to every House seat they can, one would imagine that Vallejo’s race, where she’s polling just a tenth of a percentage point behind her opponent, would be a high priority for the party.

But Democratic leadership has hardly lifted a visible finger to help Vallejo. In fact, the national party has been so absent in the district that Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa publicly complained about its neglect. The House Majority PAC, a super PAC devoted to winning House majorities for the Democrats, plans to cancel ad reservations made on Vallejo’s behalf for the end of October, and donations from the DCCC, as noted, have been almost nonexistent.

This dynamic is present in other House races with progressive candidates across the country. In Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is on the Democratic ballot line. McLeod-Skinner is arguably the most prominent progressive candidate to take down a sitting member of Congress in 2022. In May’s primary, she beat incumbent Kurt Schrader by more than 10 points. Schrader, a conservative Democrat who gained notoriety for his vocal opposition to a number of President Joe Biden’s signature legislative efforts, wasted no time in throwing McLeod-Skinner’s candidacy under the bus, telling the media that he believed she would lose the race.

McLeod-Skinner will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the general; the race is rated by FiveThirtyEight as one of the 10 most likely to determine which party controls the House. McLeod-Skinner currently leads polling by less than 1 percentage point. Despite that, her campaign has received just $990 from the DCCC through September. And, echoing developments in Vallejo’s district, the House Majority PAC has been quietly rediverting funds set aside for cutting planned advertisements supporting McLeod-Skinner.

None of this has hampered McLeod-Skinner’s fundraising ability; she has done well with small-dollar donors and received larger donations from many of the stalwart Democratic Party support organizations, including a slew of labor PACs, and from center-left groups like Emily’s List. And now, it seems that, after supporting her opponent in the primary, the party is making a half-hearted play to back her candidacy. Biden recently visited the state (although he didn’t make a stop specifically supporting McLeod-Skinner) and the DCCC is now boosting the campaign through its official channels. All this may be too little too late, though, with mail ballots already arriving at voters’ doorsteps and ballot boxes opening for early voting.

This level of support contrasts sharply with that provided to other members of the party in tossup districts, especially those whom the DCCC deems to be “frontline,” its designation for sitting members in the “most competitive seats” that it wishes to preserve. These members, already known quantities to the Democratic Party, have largely received four- and even five-figure donations from the DCCC. On top of those generous direct donations, representatives like Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, who is favored in a tight race, have also been the beneficiaries of six-figure independent expenditures.

The backing that McLeod-Skinner has received is closer to the modest contributions the DCCC offered to Joe Courtney, a Connecticut congressman with an 8-point polling advantage in a safe blue district, or Max Rose, a former member of Congress who now trails his Republican opponent by more than 10 points.

For a party scarcely four years removed from the institution of the notorious DCCC blacklist — a policy whereby consultants and political groups that worked with insurgent candidates were barred from further work within the DCCC — the flimsy support does not mark a détente between the establishment and progressive wings of the party. Instead, it evinces a party leadership still struggling to provide the same level of support to progressive insurgents that more moderate candidates enjoy.

With voting rights, abortion access and climate policy on the line, the consequences of a midterm wipeout for Democrats would be enormous. Right now, however, Democratic leaders are far from doing everything in their power to ensure that Democrats retain control of both chambers of Congress — they are shunning some of the most winnable races on the map.

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