Lib­eral Democrats in up­set pri­maries veer off plat­form

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Ayanna Press­ley cruised to vic­tory in Mas­sachusetts in a stun­ning pri­mary vic­tory last week, oust­ing a 10-term House in­cum­bent while promis­ing vot­ers she would abol­ish U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, cre­ate gov­ern­ment-run health care and en­act free col­lege tu­ition.

Lib­eral ac­tivists said that plat­form helped en­er­gize vot­ers, giv­ing her a 17-point mar­gin of vic­tory over Rep. Michael E. Ca­puano, the sec­ond long­time Demo­cratic law­maker to fall in a pri­mary this year to a more lib­eral can­di­date.

It’s also vastly dif­fer­ent from the plat­form Demo­cratic lead­ers are sell­ing.

The com­pet­ing agen­das could be­come a prob­lem should the party win con­trol of the House in Novem­ber, leav­ing lib­eral ac­tivists sali­vat­ing over a list of left-wing pri­or­i­ties that party lead­ers haven’t ap­proved.

“The peo­ple are de­mand­ing poli­cies like Medi­care for All, a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage and tu­ition-free col­lege,” said Nasim Thomp­son, a spokes­woman for Jus­tice Democrats. “If they don’t fight for th­ese poli­cies, they’ll get voted out. We’ve been see­ing it hap­pen in races all around the coun­try. And this is just the begin­ning.”

Yet the “Medi­care for All” plan of Sen. Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont, pro­vid­ing universal health care to Amer­i­cans, is nowhere to be found on Demo­cratic lead­ers’ “Bet­ter Deal” plat­form re­leased over the past year.

Nei­ther is abol­ish­ing ICE or en­sur­ing free col­lege. In­stead, Demo­cratic lead­ers of­fer less-am­bi­tious ideas, such as ap­prov­ing the Dream Act to le­gal­ize some il­le­gal im­mi­grants and spend­ing more on school con­struc­tion and teacher hir­ing.

Party of­fi­cials whit­tled down their fo­cus this sum­mer to three main pri­or­i­ties: low­er­ing health care and pre­scrip­tion drugs costs, in­vest­ing $1 tril­lion in in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments to cre­ate jobs, and clean­ing up cor­rup­tion in Washington.

“Our ‘For the Peo­ple’ agenda is rooted in our com­mit­ment to help hard­work­ing men and women and let them know we have their back,” Rep. Linda T. Sanchez of Cal­i­for­nia told re­porters on Capi­tol Hill. “We are fight­ing for what they want, need, ex­pect and de­serve from their fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

Drew Ham­mill, a spokesman for House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, said can­di­dates across the Demo­cratic ros­ter are chan­nel­ing the “For the Peo­ple” agenda in swing dis­tricts.

“You’d be hard-pressed not to find a can­di­date talk­ing about the ris­ing cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs, about the ris­ing cost of health care,” Mr. Ham­mill told The Washington Times last week. “You’d be hard-pressed not to find a can­di­date talk­ing about stag­nant wages, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find a can­di­date talk­ing about cor­rup­tion and clean­ing it up.”

In­deed, can­di­dates from Cal­i­for­nia to In­di­ana and Maine have latched onto some of the talk­ing points. They blame the “rigged sys­tem” for putting spe­cial in­ter­ests ahead of work­ing-class Amer­i­cans and block­ing ef­forts to make health care, in­clud­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs, more af­ford­able.

Some can­di­dates have flat out re­jected parts of the re­sis­tance wish list that helped Ms. Press­ley and Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York trans­form into lib­eral ti­tans that House lead­ers views as ra­dioac­tive.

“I don’t sup­port abol­ish­ing ICE,” Sharice Davis tells vot­ers in an ad air­ing in Kansas, where she is run­ning in the 3rd Con­gres­sional District against Repub­li­can Rep. Kevin Yoder and Lib­er­tar­ian Chris Clem­mons. She has been ac­cused of join­ing calls to elim­i­nate ICE.

Elaine C. Ka­marck, a long­time mem­ber of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee from Mas­sachusetts, said Mrs. Pelosi and her con­gres­sional al­lies tai­lored their cam­paign plat­form to­ward can­di­dates like Ms. Davis who are go­ing af­ter seats in swing dis­tricts, not those run­ning in safe Demo­cratic en­claves.

“The role of the lead­er­ship is to broaden the base of the party, and you broaden the base of the party by try­ing to com­pete in dis­tricts that you have not been able to win be­fore, and there are a lot of com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts out there for Democrats this time,” Ms. Ka­marck said.

Yet that prag­matic ap­proach is clash­ing with the en­ergy of the San­ders wing of the party.

House Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair­man Joseph Crow­ley learned that les­son the hard way when Ms. Oca­sio-Cortez rode a demo­cratic so­cial­ist brand of pol­i­tics to vic­tory in June in New York’s 14th Con­gres­sional District, leav­ing Mr. Crow­ley with the un­en­vi­able dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first sit­ting Demo­crat to lose a pri­mary this year.

Mr. Ca­puano be­came the sec­ond in­cum­bent to fall with his de­feat.

“The re­al­ity is that there are chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics that are go­ing on in th­ese dis­tricts,” Mr. Crow­ley said at the press brief­ing with Ms. Sanchez, where he cred­ited Ms. Press­ley and Ms. Oca­sio-Cortez with in­spir­ing more mi­nor­ity, women and young peo­ple to vote.

“I look at this all in a very pos­i­tive way for our party and this Novem­ber, be­cause that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democ­racy for Amer­ica, which en­dorsed Ms. Press­ley, said Democrats should take that les­son to heart and em­brace the bold lib­eral agenda, not the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the party’s cam­paign plat­form.

“I have yet to see some­one fly­ing the ‘Bet­ter Deal’ ban­ner all over the [literature] that they sent out,” Mr. Sroka said. “The ‘Bet­ter Deal’ was an im­prove­ment of what they put out in 2017, but to say that that plat­form is the one that is guid­ing peo­ple and can­di­dates I think is un­true.

“The vic­to­ries that are hap­pen­ing in 2018 are hap­pen­ing be­cause can­di­dates are run­ning on a bold, in­clu­sive mes­sage that is big enough and vi­sion­ary enough to res­onate with vot­ers,” he said.

Ms. Press­ley, a Bos­ton city coun­cilor who served as a Se­nate aide to John F. Kerry, cast her race as a “fight for the soul of our party” and said vot­ers are sick of be­ing told “that their is­sues, their con­cerns, their pri­or­i­ties can wait.”

“It is not just good enough to see Democrats back in power, but it mat­ters who those Democrats are,” she said.

Nathan L. Gon­za­les, editor and pub­lisher of In­side Elec­tions, a non­par­ti­san cam­paign tracker, said Democrats are re­play­ing the civil war that erupted be­tween the tea party and the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment ear­lier this decade.

“I think the tea party was par­tially about pu­ri­fy­ing the Repub­li­can Party,” Mr. Gon­za­les said. “I see a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment with the pro­gres­sive wing and the Demo­cratic Party. I think th­ese new Demo­crat mem­bers will push their party lead­er­ship to be bolder on is­sues. But we still don’t know how many of those new mem­bers there will be.”

Ms. Ka­marck said the lib­eral wing of the party could move the nee­dle on their wish list if Democrats flip con­trol of Congress, but Mrs. Pelosi’s agenda likely will win out.

“They will hit re­al­ity,” she said. “There is no doubt about it. Ev­ery­body al­ways does, and the re­al­ity of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is you live in a big tent of a party and you never get 100 per­cent of what you want.”

New York con­gres­sional can­di­date Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez rode a demo­cratic so­cial­ist brand of pol­i­tics to vic­tory in June in New York’s 14th Con­gres­sional District de­feat­ing House Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair­man Joseph Crow­ley.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Bos­ton City Coun­cilor Ayanna Press­ley made abol­ish­ing ICE and en­sur­ing free col­lege part of her win­ning cam­paign.

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