Reporter's notebook

Is The DCCC Grappling With a Tea-Party-In-Reverse Problem?

HOUSTON, TX -- MAY 22, 2017: Laura Moser's campaign signs on a bag in her home in Houston, Monday May 22, 2017.  Moser is returning to Houston from Washington where her husband worked for the Obama Whitehouse, and is starting her effort to run for the 7th Congressional District in Texas currently occupied by Republican John Culberson. (Photo by Michael Stravato/For the Washington Post)
HOUSTON, TX -- MAY 22, 2017: Laura Moser's campaign signs on a bag in her home in Houston, Monday May 22, 2017. Moser is returning to Houston from Washington where her husband worked for the Obama Whitehouse, and is... HOUSTON, TX -- MAY 22, 2017: Laura Moser's campaign signs on a bag in her home in Houston, Monday May 22, 2017. Moser is returning to Houston from Washington where her husband worked for the Obama Whitehouse, and is starting her effort to run for the 7th Congressional District in Texas currently occupied by Republican John Culberson. (Photo by Michael Stravato/For the Washington Post) MORE LESS
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February 23, 2018 4:19 p.m.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) moved yesterday to nuke a candidate in Texas that it sees as a bad ideological fit for the district. Progressive favorite Laura Moser has too much baggage (and carpetbaggage), the DCCC claimed. The attack infuriated many on the left — and had some Republicans feeling deja vu.

The GOP establishment has struggled for years with what to do about upstart challengers who have primary appeal but who, because of ideological extremism or personal flaws, might blow a general election. That goes back to the fringe campaigns of people like Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell and Sharron Angle in 2010, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in 2012, and continues through recent months (see: Moore, Roy).

The GOP establishment has at times stood up to whack down these candidates — easier said than done, as Moore proved. In other cases it has taken a more hands-off approach. Now, the Democratic establishment feels the need to figure out its own strategy to deal with candidates that it thinks are uncompetitive.

According to a former staffer to Mitt Romney and  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the Democrats “are having their tea party moment.”

This isn’t the first time the Democratic establishment has had to play candidate whack-a-mole. They spent millions to defeat former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) in his Senate primary last year (a decision that, in hindsight, may not have been worth it — establishment favorite Katie McGinty failed to defeat Republican Pat Toomey and proved to be a mediocre candidate herself). They’ve also played favorites among other Democrats in House primaries, as I laid out in my story today on Moser, with mixed results. But these days, after the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders DNC blowup, things are just a little bit more sensitive.

Plenty of Democrats weren’t happy with the DCCC’s moves against Moser — including some with deep ties to the establishment.

But as Republicans can attest, there’s no easy solution for the party establishment when it dislikes a candidate that appeals to the base.

And there’s a risk that the DCCC’s attack on Moser, which even some former DCCC staff told TPM was “ham-handed,” could backfire. Part of why then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost a primary shocker to now-Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) was because he panicked and ran bad ads looking to destroy Brat. They had the opposite effect, elevating Brat’s name recognition in the district.

Only time will tell whether the DCCC made the right call in going after Moser (and attacking her in the way they did) — and it remains to be seen if it will use the same approach with other candidates it dislikes going forward. But the DCCC has to weigh its tactics carefully. Control of the House may depend on it.

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