A trio of moderate Democrats went down to more liberal opponents Tuesday night in key House primaries, the latest skirmishes in the battle for the direction of the party that one national Democrat described to TPM as “non-ideal outcomes.”
In the biggest race, former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE), a moderate who had support of national Democrats including the Democratic Congressional Committee, lost to nonprofit health care executive Kara Eastman (D) in a stunner.
Eastman ran hard on universal Medicare and supports decriminalizing marijuana. Ashford, a former Republican, basically ran his primary with a general-election message, touting the work he’d done to bring a VA clinic back to the district in ads. She’ll face off against Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in a slightly GOP-leaning district based in Omaha in a key test to see if Democrats can win by taking stridently progressive positions in swing districts.
Self-funding philanthropist Scott Wallace (D) also defeated Navy veteran Rachel Reddick (D) for the right to face Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) this fall in a very swingy suburban Philadelphia district. Reddick, like Ashford, had previously been a Republican — a fact Wallace made sure voters knew with his bevy of campaign ads.
“Things almost certainly got tougher in a couple districts,” the national Democrat told TPM, calling Reddick the “stronger candidate” and saying there was “no doubt” Ashford would have been the better fit for his Omaha district.
And just to the north of that district, a pro-life and anti-immigration Democrat who’d repeatedly praised President Trump lost to a more mainstream Democratic candidate. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli (D), a sanctuary cities foe who’d applied for a job under Trump, had strong local support and high name ID. But he lost his race to former Allentown Solicitor Susan Wild, a more mainstream liberal who had the support of the pro-choice EMILY’s List. She wasn’t the most progressive candidate in the race — local pastor Greg Edwards, who had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), finished a close third — but their combined vote showed how little appetite there is for a Trump apologist in today’s Democratic Party.
The results appear to be a mixed bag at best for Democrats as they look to retake the House.
National Democrats are deeply concerned that Eastman’s single-payer views will be a tough sell in a GOP-leaning congressional district where a ton of jobs rely on the medical and insurance industries.
And while the DCCC congratulated her on her win Wednesday morning — “These primary results show Kara is running strong and she is well positioned to win this fall,” DCCC spokesman Evan Lukaske said in a statement — establishment Democrats are privately fretting that they may have hurt themselves in a prime pickup opportunity last night.
Progressive groups counter that Eastman will be able to gin up the Democratic base better — and prove to be a strong general election candidate.
“Kara Eastman taught the Democratic establishment a lesson: The way to inspire voters in 2018 is to campaign on a bold progressive agenda of Medicare for All, higher wages for workers, and other economic populist ideas that help working families and challenge corporate power. This is how Democrats can win in red, purple, and blue districts and maximize a wave in 2018,” Progressive Campaign Change Committee co-head Stephanie Taylor said in a statement.
Wallace thumped Reddick largely because he outspent her by a huge margin, and Democrats are excited he’ll be able to self-fund against Fitzpatrick in the expensive Philadelphia media market. And the DCCC released a poll showing him trailing Fitzpatrick by just 48 percent to 46 percent Wednesday morning. But most Democrats privately say they would have preferred a young female veteran in the race rather than a man who hasn’t lived in the district for decades and has left himself open to attacks on taxes because of late payments of his own taxes in Maryland.
Most are more than happy to see Morganelli fall, however. He was far outside Democratic orthodoxy, and had run some unimpressive statewide races in the past. While Wild is more liberal, Democrats think she’ll run a much more robust campaign — and don’t see any reason to put a Democrat-in-name-only into a newly drawn seat that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama would have carried.