Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

House Republican moderates say they have enough support to force a full House vote on legislation to protect undocumented immigrants brought here as children, as tensions between them and House GOP leaders continued to escalate on Thursday.

A coalition of GOP centrists led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Jeff Denham (R-CA) are sick and tired of waiting for leaders refusing to move on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. And they’re just four GOP signatories away from being able to force a full House vote on a solution, assuming all House Democrats join them in support.

Denham told reporters Thursday afternoon that the Democrats would be publicly coming onboard before the end of the day — and that more Republicans would be signing on “this week.”

“I have more than enough signatures for the discharge petition,” he said.

The push continued a day after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told members that forcing the votes could cost Republicans the House majority by infuriating the GOP base — and an emergency meeting with centrists convened by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to try to diffuse the push.

In spite of that, the number of GOP signatories to the discharge petition grew to 20 on Wednesday, with a number of Democrats joining them on Thursday.

Republican leaders are livid about the push against their authority after months of foot-dragging on moving on any DACA fix, aided by a lack of urgency from many members since the courts are set to rule on whether Trump’s decision to end the program was constitutional this fall.

But that’s not how many centrist GOP members see it — especially those from swing districts facing tough reelection battles this fall. A number of members from districts with large numbers of Hispanic constituents, like Denham and Curbelo, worry that a failure to move on a DACA fix could further imperil their seat.

And some other GOP members are simply fed up.

I’ve got the speaker’s office going ‘you’ve got to stop this shit, to try to bring a vote,'” an exasperated Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), one of the signatories, told TPM. “Seriously, Mr. Speaker? We’re giving you the ability to write your own bill. … What is your fear for being accountable for a yes-or-no vote on a piece of legislation that was last tuned up three and a half decades ago?”

That Denham is breaking with his close friend and ally McCarthy is particularly notable.

The discharge petition would force a vote on four bills, including a much more conservative plan backed by GOP leadership that would likely fail on the House floor, two versions that could pass the full House with a combination of Democratic and moderate GOP support, and an open one that GOP leaders could fill with their own bill. That wouldn’t happen until early June at the earliest.

Even some members of GOP leadership said Thursday that they thought the party better move quickly on a solution.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee who Democrats plan to target aggressively for defeat this fall in a Hispanic-heavy district, responded “every bit of it’s true” when asked if the issue could have repercussions for the party in November if Republicans don’t figure out a way to unify around a solution, saying that while he doesn’t support the discharge petition it “forces our party to say more forthrightly where we are.”

A national message about where our party is [on DACA] is still, I believe, wanting,” he said. “Leaders lead. And we’re going to have to find a good, succinct answer.”

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Hey there readers, I’m back to answer your Q’s. Keep ’em coming!

Here’s an interesting way to look at the long-fought battle between progressives and moderates about electability, from davewilliamsnj:

What pairs of districts will provide good ‘A/B tests’ between progressive vs. centrist Democrats?

I’m thinking of a situation where there are 2 districts with similar demographics and culture, and similar support for a Republican incumbent, but one district has a more centrist Democrat running while the other has a more progressive one.

Right now we don’t really know whether the conventional view of “electability” still holds, or whether the Berniecrats are right when they say the Dems should move toward progressive populism. But November should offer opportunities for us to start to answer that question, if only we can filter out the various variables and compare apples to apples.

Well, we got one pretty great example in Nebraska earlier this week, where progressive champion and nonprofit executive Kara Eastman defeated moderate former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) for the chance to face Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in a slightly GOP-leaning district. National Democrats had backed Ashford in the race and are concerned that Eastman’s support for single-payer health insurance could be especially problematic in the district given how much of Omaha’s economy is driven by medical and insurance companies. She also backs decriminalizing marijuana and tuition-free college. But in her primary win she proved to be the harder-working candidate and the one that excited the Democratic base more.

This will be a good test for progressives’ argument that candidates who champion ardently liberal policy positions can win tough districts (at least in a wave election), and, in particular, a test of whether Medicare-for-all can sell in a more upscale, fiscally conservative district.

A good counterpoint to this race could be the battle to unseat Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in suburban Chicago. The districts aren’t perfect overlaps, but there are a ton of similarities: Both are largely white (roughly three-quarters), well-educated (38 percent of the Omaha district have at least a college degree, 50 percent in the Illinois seat), upper-middle-class suburban-heavy Midwestern districts that lean slightly towards the GOP in most years. President Trump won the Omaha seat by two percentage points and lost the Illinois seat by seven, but Mitt Romney carried Roskam’s district by eight and Bacon’s by seven in 2012. The Cook Political Report gives both an R+2 score on its Partisan Voting Index, meaning normally both would be around two points more Republican than the national vote.

Roskam’s opponent is Sean Casten, who poppped out of a crowded Democratic primary in March that included some more liberal candidates. Casten is a local businessman and scientist who is a more traditional suburban Democrat. He’s run hard on clean energy issues and against President Trump, and also says he supports “universal healthcare” — but his version of it is a lot more incremental than further-left politicians like Bernie Sanders’. He has similar suggestions for making college more affordable without creating free college.

This isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison: Roskam is a battle-tested veteran close to House GOP leaders (which is both a plus and a minus) with a huge campaign war chest in a much more expensive district for TV air time, and he’s much better-known in the community than Bacon, a first-term member and former Air Force general. He’s also a key player in writing the GOP tax law, another plus and minus. But the districts do have enough in common, and the Democrats come from different-enough parts of the party, that this could be a good A/B test.

It’s a bit early to be able to highlight other races since so many primaries haven’t happened yet so we don’t know what candidates will come out, and since most of the true moderate-to-conservative Democrats running strong in primaries this year are in more heavily Republican districts, like the one currently represented by Mia Love (R-UT) in greater Salt Lake City.

But keep an eye on California’s June 5 primary. If moderate Dave Min wins his crowded primary to face Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) against candidates including the more progressive Katie Porter, his could be an interesting race to compare to other more progressive Democrats in nearby Orange County districts that the party hopes to turn blue this fall.

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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.

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Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) fell short in the primary for his comeback bid to a more progressive challenger Tuesday, a stunning disappointment to national Democrats that could be a blow to the party’s chances of winning the GOP-leaning seat.

Liberal nonprofit executive Kara Eastman (D) won the Democratic nomination by a scant 1126-vote margin, a number outside the window which would trigger an automatic recount under Nebraska law. The gap is wide enough that Ashford will have a tough time overcoming it even if there is a recount.

That’s a major disappointment for national Democrats, who had banked on him making a comeback run this election.

They had gone all-in for Ashford in recent months — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tacitly endorsed him over Eastman early this year by putting him on their “red-to-blue” program, and a number of members helped Ashford raise money for the race.

But while Ashford basically started his general election campaign early, running ads touting his accomplishments bringing a VA medical center back to the district, Eastman ran hard to Ashford’s left on a number of issues. She declared in one campaign ad that she’s “the only candidate for Congress who stands for universal health care and ending massive tax breaks for millionaires that threaten the middle class.”

And while the primary remained quite civil — his niece is close friends with her daughter — an Eastman win would set up a far different general election campaign, one national Democrats feel far less confident about.

President Trump won the Omaha-based district by two percentage points, and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), a former Air Force general, proved to be a solid campaigner last election cycle.

Democrats were excited that Ashford, a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who lost by just one point last fall, would give Bacon a tough challenge. But they worry that Eastman’s support of single-payer healthcare could prove an especially tough sell in the swing district given the high number of jobs dependent on the healthcare and health insurance industries that are based in Omaha.

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A Democratic House candidate who opposes abortion, has hardline views immigration and repeatedly praised President Trump lost a hard-fought primary Tuesday night.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli (D) fell short in his bid for a swingy open House seat based in Allentown, finishing in second place with 31 percent of the vote. Former Allentown Solicitor Susan Wild, a more mainline Democrat backed by the pro-choice EMILY’s List, won with 33 percent of the vote. Local pastor Greg Edwards, who had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), finished in third with 26 percent of the vote.

That’s a relief for national and state Democrats who weren’t looking forward to having to defend Morganelli in his race due to his iconoclastic views, though Democrats were split about whether he or Wild would be the stronger general election candidate in a newly drawn blue-collar district that would have went narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Morganelli, who lost previous statewide Democratic primaries, has long been out of step with many in his party base. A pro-life Democrat, he repeatedly praised Trump early in the presidency, even applying for a district attorney job in the administration.

“Waiting to hear from transition. Hope to serve,” he tweeted at Trump at the time.

He says he withdrew that application because of his disappointment in Trump. But in March 2017 defended Trump’s planned sanctuary cities crackdown by comparing it to President Obama’s use of federal funds to urge states to allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of their gender, citing an article from the right-wing fringe World Net Daily in the process.

Wild is much more in line with her party on key issues. She’ll have to run hard in the general election, however, as the district is far from a slam-dunk for her party even in a good year for Democrats.

And she’ll face a potentially tough opponent: Marty Nothstein, a local GOP elected official who’s also an Olympic gold medal winning cyclist.

In another key Pennsylvania Democratic primary, wealthy philanthropist and non-profit head Scott Wallace defeated Navy veteran Rachel Reddick by a healthy margin after outspending her by a wide margin.

Wallace will face Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in the tossup district. Democrats worry that their new nominee’s baggage could be problematic in this election. He hasn’t lived in the area in decades, splitting his time between the D.C. suburbs and South Africa in recent years — and failed to pay local taxes on time one year (he says he didn’t get the bill in South Africa and paid up once he found out).

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Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) won his primary to face Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) on Tuesday — but his margin of victory wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring.

Barletta, a close Trump ally whom the President backed with robocalls in the closing days of the race, led underfunded Pennsylvania state Rep. Jim Christiana (R) by 59 percent to 41 percent when the Associated Press called the Tuesday night.

That’s not exactly a huge margin for Barletta, a longtime congressman who had the explicit endorsement of the President — and who spent nearly $2 million on the race to just $250,000 for Christiana.

Republicans have already privately worried that the divisive Barletta, like Trump an immigration hardliner, could hurt the rest of the GOP ticket in a state where more than a half-dozen House seats are up for grabs this cycle, most of them Democratic pickup opportunities. These results are unlikely to calm their nerves.

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The 2018 election is still almost six months away, but high-profile Democrats with even higher ambitions made their claims to the future of the party on Tuesday at the first big cattle call of the year for the 2020 campaign.

Almost a dozen big-name Democrats with potential White House ambitions took the stage at the Center for American Progress’s 2018 Ideas Fest, with many testing out campaign themes as they look to square up for the not-too-distant presidential election.

The Democratic primary lineup in two years is expected to be crowded, and while no one mentioned the big 20-20 onstage, it was clear where many erstwhile candidates’ heads are — and what the audience was looking for.

People are all interested to see something new, what ideas and what leaders may be coming up next,” Jennifer Palmieri, a former communications director for President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told TPM. She called the event “a place where national leaders can come and lay down, birth ideas that people are going to be running on in ‘18, governing on in ‘19 and running on in ‘20.”

The roll call included Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — seven of the eight senators who might run for president.

The senators were joined by other potential White House hopefuls like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and billionaire green energy and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer. All subtly pitched the small crowd of Democratic activists, think-tank nerds and influence-peddlers on their visions for the future of the party while closely hewing to their own core issues.

Only Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who with a half-dozen other possible candidates spoke at last year’s conference, wasn’t onstage, while Sanders, who CAP had been criticized for excluding last year, was included.

And while there was remarkable unity on policy views among the potential candidates, the differences over tactics and emphasis will likely define the battle for the nomination and the soul of the party for years to come.

Sanders, in a speech billed to be about criminal justice reform, argued that “breaking up the oligarchy” was the only way to advance other progressive causes, before lacing into billionaire Jeff Bezos for the fact that some Amazon employees are paid little enough that they’re eligible for food stamps.

Gillibrand leaned hard into women’s rights and the power of women to change the direction of the country.

Women are holding our democracy together in these dangerous times,” she declared in her speech.

In a following panel discussion, she borrowed a line from International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde that got some laughs from the well-heeled crowd and plenty of bipartisan derision on Twitter.

“If it wasn’t Lehman Brothers but Lehman Sisters we might not have had the financial collapse,” she said.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) zeroed in on how the rising generations have fewer economic opportunities than the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.

We know what a free market should really be about and how we’ve perverted it in everything we see changing from just a generation ago,” said a candidate that some on the left have accused of being too cozy with Wall Street.

And he twice managed to work in references to the Midwest — not a bad thing to polish up in a campaign speech for someone interested in Iowa — including a warning that “wild rampant corporate consolidation in the agricultural center” was hollowing out Midwestern communities.

Both Booker and Brown worked in references to Martin Luther King’s poor people’s campaign speech to express solidarity between the fight for racial equality and economic opportunity.

“If we’re going to be a progressive movement and it’s about civil rights and human rights, it’s also about worker rights and it’s also about trade unionism,” Brown said during a morning panel.

Booker, Warren and Castro all talked up their modest roots and the government programs that gave them the opportunities to rise, humanizing themselves with their back stories while arguing those opportunities are shrinking now.

Most avoided directly discussing President Trump, instead focusing more on positive ideas — raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, the fight against climate change and marijuana legalization.

The exceptions to the rule were Warren and Klobuchar, who argued both must be done.

While we’d rather talk about great ideas we can’t climb that hill by ignoring the millions of Americans who are angry and scared about the damage this presidency and the Republican party have done to our democracy,” Warren declared in the event’s closing speech.

“Progressives can do two things at once,” said Klobuchar. “We can, one, focus on that optimistic economic agenda … and what needs to be done to protect our democracy.”

Klobuchar and Brown both warned Democrats not to forget the Midwest.

The Midwest can’t get left behind at the gas station in 2018 or 2020,” she said, while Brown said calling his state part of the Rust Belt “diminishes who we are.”

“Talk about the dignity of work, talk about whose side are you on,” he implored his fellow Democrats.

While the candidates looked to carve out their unique brands onstage, they were careful to project unity. Gillibrand complimented Castro. Brown name-checked Klobuchar.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer summed up the solidarity sentiment of the event: “In order for us to win on this we have to in fact win elections as a result of a coalition of people who have each other’s back on every single issue,” he said to applause.

As the 2020 campaign begins to move out of its shadowboxing phase, it will be interesting to see how long that solidarity holds.

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House Democrats are girding themselves for a crucial stretch of primaries beginning Tuesday that could make or break their chances at a majority — and have party strategists worried they could blow some big opportunities.

Key battles in Pennsylvania and Nebraska, as well as contests in Oregon and Idaho, will get decided this week that could dramatically alter the contours of the House map. They’ll be followed in quick succession by elections in 20 other states over the coming month that will pit a number of establishment-favored Democrats against upstart challengers, with key races from California to Texas to Maine.

The biggest House contests on Tuesday come in suburban territory crucial to Democrats’ chances at retaking the House. Democrats will pick their nominees to face Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and for another open seat near Philadelphia in Pennsylvania’s newly redrawn congressional map, and decide whether to give former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) the right to a rematch after he lost a close election to Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) in 2016.


Ashford is favored in his race against left-wing challenger and nonprofit executive Kara Eastman in Omaha. National Democrats are excited about his return — he overcame a terrible 2014 cycle to defeat a GOP incumbent and nearly held on last year against Bacon, another tough campaigner — and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing his primary bid, the only one of this week’s races they’ve publicly stepped into. Eastman’s team argues her support of single-payer health insurance is an asset — “both Democrats and Republicans need health insurance,” campaign spokesperson Heather Aliano said, before arguing base enthusiasm matters — but  national Democrats say if Eastman wins they might not have a shot at the seat, since a district where a number of jobs are dependent on insurance giants headquartered in the city.


The race Democrats are most concerned about is the Fitzpatrick race, where self-funding philanthropist Scott Wallace has moved back into the district after decades away, most recently living in the D.C. suburbs and South Africa. Wallace, a grandson of one of FDR’s vice presidents, has spent millions on the race and most expect him to defeat Navy veteran Rachel Reddick, a young former Republican.

And next door in the Allentown-based 7th District, strategists say an anti-immigration Democrat who’s out of step with many of the party’s priorities may be the favorite in a messy three-way primary against a more traditional Democratic candidate and a Bernie Sanders-backed pastor.

“We’re experiencing some of the challenges that come with high levels of enthusiasm —  people jump in who have some problems in their background that raise concerns. Sometimes they’ll win and then we have to manage it,” said one Pennsylvania Democratic strategist.

Democrats mostly aren’t panicked by the prospect of a Wallace nomination in the suburban 1st district – but most say they’d prefer to have a young, female veteran running for the seat who hasn’t been gone as long rather than a self-funding candidate who hasn’t lived there in decades.

“I don’t necessarily think he’s weak [in the general election], but he has some baggage,” said Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist Joe Corrigan, who is neutral in the race but predicted he’ll be the nominee after spending more than $2 million of his own money on the primary, much more than she’s spent. “Objectively it’s probably better to have a woman who’s a veteran but I don’t think it’s a write-off if we get Scott Wallace by any stretch of the imagination. He’s got a good campaign team around him and has a lot of local support. That said, a woman would be better.”

That might be generous — Cook Political Report House race handicapper David Wasserman called Wallace a “badly flawed candidate” in a recent article due to his long time away from the district and time living in one of South Africa’s toniest communities, and he’s faced criticism for late payments on hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in Maryland (he said he didn’t get the letter forwarded to him in South Africa, and immediately paid them off when he found out).

Wallace’s team pushed back on the attacks on his record, pointing out that Fitzpatrick also moved back into the district to run after leaving the FBI when his brother retired for the seat two years ago, while touting his self-funding ability.

“Voters know that Scott grew up in the district, moved for college and a career — just as Fitzpatrick did — and has always been tied to Bucks County and this district. And Scott has the resources to fight any attack, unlike any candidate who has run here in recent history,” Wallace adviser Jefrey Pollock told TPM.

Democrats are hopeful that a solid wave election could help obscure any candidate flaws in a district that Hillary Clinton narrowly won and President Obama carried twice. And they’re bullish that Wallace’s millions will allow him to define the race on his terms in the expensive media market, forcing Republicans to spend heavily to keep up. Republican outside groups have already reserved millions in Philadelphia, a sign they’re bracing for a cash onslaught.

But they admit that he’s going to have to find a way to explain to voters in the upscale district why he supports some tax increases while defending his own delay in tax payments. And they concede that the moderate Fitzpatrick is going to be a tough out in the swing district.

Democrats are much more bullish about their chances in a newly redrawn district centered on Allentown, which Clinton narrowly won and Obama comfortably carried twice. But many aren’t thrilled about a man who they think may win — Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli (D), who has repeatedly praised President Trump and holds hardline immigration views that are completely out of step with the national party (Morganelli campaign spokesman Rich Wilkins says he supports a DACA fix and “his positions in the past on immigration have largely been based on his work in law enforcement.”)

He’s facing off against former Allentown city solicitor Susan Wild (D), who has more mainline Democratic views and who Democrats think would be a strong general election candidate as well, and Greg Edwards, an African American pastor backed by Bernie Sanders who strategists think doesn’t have as good a chance on Tuesday.

A recent public poll found all three leading their possible GOP foes, with Morganelli, possibly due to his high name identification, with the widest lead. But Republicans think local elected official Marty Nothstein, a former Olympic cyclist, could run a strong race if he wins the nomination.

Morganelli might not thrill Democrats given his views — and they invite a future primary challenge if he squeaks through on Tuesday. But while his possible nomination smarts for progressives, it’s unclear whether he’d be Democrats’ strongest chance at winning the seat.

“I think we’re going to wind up with Morganelli winning the primary, which sucks because he’s not really a Democrat, but him not really being a Democrat might help us in the general [election],” said Corrigan.

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Welcome to the jungle.

National Democrats are making a last-minute push to avoid catastrophe in California, where the state’s unusual jungle primary system could leave them without general election candidates in a number of districts they’re banking on to seize control of the House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a number of elected officials from the state are rushing in to try to lift some Democrats over others and knock back second-tier Republicans, risking backlash and second-guessing in an effort to avoid getting locked out of winnable districts.

California’s top-two all-party primary system means that whatever two candidates win the most votes on June 5 will get to square off in the general election, regardless of what party they belong to. That, and a surge in the number of viable Democratic candidates compared to past years, has Democrats worried that their challengers could split the vote and let Republicans lock them out in five different districts they hope to contest this fall, most of them centered in fast-diversifying Orange County.

Their biggest worries are the open seats held by retiring Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA), as well as against Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a weak GOP incumbent facing real competition from another Republican who could slip through. They’re also keeping an eye on the races against Reps. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) and Jeff Denham (R-CA), though there’s less concern about those contests.

The DCCC needs to do whatever it can to make sure that we are not boxed out in November,” DCCC Vice Chairman Ted Lieu (D-CA) told TPM.

After closely monitoring the problem for months and quietly pushing lower-tier candidates to head for the exits (with mixed results), the DCCC kicked into high gear in recent days to do what it could to keep its party from blowing some golden opportunities in a number of golden state districts.

Their biggest move to date — and their most controversial — was a Friday endorsement of businessman Harley Rouda over Dr. Hans Keirstead in the race to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the district most Democrats say is the one they’re most worried about. The move is a split from the state Democratic Party, a hub of hardline progressive loyalists, which endorsed Keirstead earlier this spring, as well as with SEIU and a number of other state unions.

Rohrabacher is uniquely vulnerable because of his strident Russia praise — but that’s given an opening to Republican former state assemblyman Scott Baugh as well, who is in the mix to make the runoff against the deeply flawed incumbent.

“I’m very concerned about that race. It would be a shame if we didn’t get a Democrat into the top two. There’s no reason we shouldn’t other than too many candidates and too big of egos,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), a Rouda backer.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) faces a tough reelection fight (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call).

That move comes following a gradual rollout of endorsements for Rouda from lawmakers in nearby districts — he now has more than a half-dozen congressmen in his corner —and days after Rouda released a poll showing the two Democrats in a three-way tie at 13 percent apiece with Rohrabacher at 30 percent support.

An online poll conducted for Keirstead allies released earlier this week found a different situation, with Rohrabacher at 27 percent, him at 19 percent, Baugh at 17 percent and Rouda hanging back at 11 percent support.

Rohrabacher’s district is far from the only one national Democrats are worried about.

A few weeks ago, the DCCC jumped in to back Navy veteran and lottery winner Gil Cisneros (D) in the race for the open seat to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA). The move drew howls from Cisneros’ opponents, the loudest of them from businessman Andy Thorburn (D) and the progressive organizations backing him like the Bernie Sanders-affiliated Our Revolution and the California Nurses Association.

That endorsement could come back to bite them, as a local Democratic official who’s backing Thorburn accused the married Cisneros of drunkenly trying to seduce her then withholding a campaign donation — a charge Cisneros and his allies strongly deny. Others told TPM Cisneros wasn’t drunk that night — including local Fox News reporter Jamie Chambers, who said he talked to Cisneros around the time of the alleged encounter and that he was “sober, clear, and lucid.”

Pushing one candidate over others isn’t their only option.

Party leaders have quietly worked on second-tier candidates for months to drop out to help the remaining Democrats consolidate the vote. And a few have done so – including Rachel Payne, who recently dropped her bid for the Rohrabacher seat. But others, like EMILY’s List-backed Mai Khanh Tran in Royce’s district, have told them to stuff it.

Rohrabacher’s seat is the one they’re the most worried about. But Issa’s is the one they’re struggling the most to act in.

Four different viable Democrats are running for the open seat, which stretches from Orange County to San Diego and which Issa almost lost last cycle. That includes the man that almost beat him last time, former Marine Doug Applegate (D), who many Democrats aren’t as high on this time because of accusations of stalking and two temporary restraining orders put out by his ex-wife. But he’s clung onto some of his base, and while many in the party are hopeful that one of the other Democrats will emerge, they’re not sure who it will be. National Democrats think former State Department employee Sara Jacobs has some momentum, but Navy veteran Paul Kerr (D) and green energy executive Mike Levin (D) have their own bases of support.

The Democrats have endorsed across the board … Two of them [Jacobs and Kerr] have money, one [Applegate] has name recognition, so it’s really hard to handicap it,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), who represents a neighboring district in San Diego. “Darrel didn’t do us any favors by retiring, because it would have been him and one of the Democrats, and I think that’s true with Ed Royce too. We’re in uncharted waters right now.”

Issa said he was hopeful Democrats would get shut out in his district.

If the voters make the right decision there will be two Republicans on the ticket in November,” he said. “I think we might get it.”

Left-wing fury helped drive Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) into retirement — and complicated Democrats’ efforts to win his district. (BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Democrats have gone on the attack in recent days against a number of second-tier GOP candidates in the hopes of consolidating Republican voters’ support behind one option — and making it easier for one of their own candidates to leap-frog the second-place challenger.

The DCCC moved last week to do so in Royce’s district, launching $300,000 worth of ads to knock down two of the three Republicans with real support in the race. Sources tell TPM that they and The House Majority PAC, House Democrat’s main super PAC, will likely make similar moves in other districts in the coming days. Lieu suggested there were plans in the works to do the same to Baugh in the Rohrabacher district, and attack one of the Republicans running for Issa’s district, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R), comments national Democrats confirmed to TPM.

Rocky Chavez voted to increase taxes and as a Republican that is a very difficult thing in a primary to get past Republican voters. So we could point out certain facts,” Lieu said.

The strongest play is to go after Baugh and bring him down,” said one national Democrat monitoring the races.

National Republicans have yet to jump in, but could use similar tactics.

Democrats are less worried about failing to get a candidate through against Denham, whose base of support is strong enough with Republicans that another Republican shouldn’t be able to get through there. And their only real worry with the ethics-challenged Hunter, as Lieu put it, is “if there’s an indictment” before the primary that could fracture the GOP base.

Democrats have been burned before in these districts.

“Our focus has to be on ensuring that a Democrat advances to the November election,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), who got boxed out by two Republicans in his own first race for Congress before getting there with help from the DCCC in his 2014 rematch, told TPM. “Obviously there were lots of lessons learned from things in the past.”

They’re also hopeful that a huge turnout gap that’s favored Republicans in past years will be reversed. Democrats have had more enthusiasm nationwide this year, and competitive statewide races for governor, senator, and lieutenant governor will drive turnout on the Democratic side, making it easier for one of their candidates to win because Republicans have no viable statewide candidates.

But Democrats admit direct involvement to boost one candidate over another risks backfiring as the jilted candidate could capitalize on anti-Washington, anti-establishment fervor in the base to gain momentum. That happened already in Texas, where Laura Moser used the DCCC’s clumsy attacks against her to vault herself into a primary runoff against the party establishment’s preferred choice.

“It’s a double-edged sword. Whoever doesn’t get the DCCC endorsement is going to go ‘Oh, Washington’s trying to pick,'” said Sanchez.

This story has been updated to include more information about the allegations against Cisneros.

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House Democrats’ campaign committee has officially chosen sides in the battle to face Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in the fall, throwing their weight behind businessman Harley Rouda (D) over businessman Hans Keirstead (D).

“Harley has demonstrated that he is the strongest Democrat in this race and best prepared for the general election, and with the grassroots and numerous California delegation members strongly behind him, we know we will flip this district this fall,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said in a statement.

The move is an attempt to avoid the disaster of the two Democrats evenly splitting the vote and giving Republicans a chance of pushing through two candidates in the fall.

California’s unusual top-two all-party “jungle primary” means that the two candidates of any party who finish at the top in the June 5 primary advance to the general election, and this is one of five swing seats where Democrats have been worried they might blow their chances at winning by being locked out completely.

Rohrabacher’s deep flaws as a candidate make him vulnerable in the fall  — but have also opened the door to a serious GOP challenge from Scott Baugh, a popular local lawmaker.

Democrats have been warily watching this race since it might be their biggest risk of getting shut out in June. But national Democratic interference has the risk of backfiring by infuriating local activists. To that end, the DCCC’s endorsement was paired with strong backing by local Democratic activists, with a joint statement with the district’s local Indivisible group.

“We’ve been hard at work for more than a year to defeat Dana Rohrabacher and bring change to our district,” the leaders of Indivisible Orange County 48 said in a joint statement. “We believe that the only way we can accomplish this goal is by Democrats and like-minded Independents and Republicans to unite around Harley Rouda, a strong progressive whom we were proud to endorse last week. We appreciate the DCCC following our lead and standing with Harley Rouda and grassroots organizations like Indivisible.”

Even so, the move is likely to ruffle some feathers. Keirstead has some significant local support as well, including an endorsement from the California Democratic Party, an organization that’s largely been taken over by hardline progressive activists.


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