“We are stakeholders in the future of the Democratic Party,” says Ruby Schneider, the 20-year-old chair of the College Democrats at the University of Michigan, which worked on behalf of several state and federal candidates during the midterms, including Representative Elissa Slotkin. “We want to see a party that reflects diverse identities and is open to change.” Primary challenges, Schneider adds, allow for “necessary shifts.”
Several of the College Democrats I spoke with cited increased voter support across the country for progressive proposals such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and suggested that preventing progressives from launching primary challenges will hinder the party from achieving those goals. “We have a bunch of younger and progressive Democrats who want the party to be taken in that direction only to see the leadership and the establishment not be responsive to our needs,” says Ben Pearce, the president of the University of Southern California College Democrats.
Read: The coming Democratic drama over Medicare for All
Pearce’s chapter, whose members helped phone-bank for candidates such as Representative Katie Hill in 2018, plan to avoid DCCC-sponsored volunteer events during the 2020 election, and will instead work directly with candidates. “I don’t think it does the party any favors to protect incumbents who might not be as responsive to the new voices that are coming forward,” Pearce says.
The DCCC has taken issue with the criticism of its new policy, pointing out that its focus is on maintaining the Democratic House majority and expanding the political map for Democrats, not replacing progressives with other progressives. “House Democrats are the firewall against attacks on Americans’ health care, pushing to end corruption in Washington, and create an economy that works for everyone,” the DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter told me, noting that the current House Democratic caucus is the most diverse in history. “The DCCC is already well into our work to fortify this newly won House majority and expand the battlefield further into districts that haven’t had the opportunity to elect a Democrat in decades.”
It’s also worth noting that the DCCC actively works to put progressives in office. The committee spent a combined $25.7 million in the 2018 midterms to elect eight new members who ended up joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including Representative Katie Porter of California, a protege of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose aggressive questioning of the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase went viral in April.
But the consequences of the DCCC’s new policy are already being felt on the ground, and the College Democrats I spoke with are troubled by it. Marie Newman, a 55-year-old progressive and former nonprofit executive, is challenging the anti-abortion Democrat Dan Lipinski in Illinois’s third congressional district. Newman, who has the support of several progressive lawmakers in her party, ran against Lipinski in 2018, but lost by 2 percent. She’s trying again in 2020, but since the DCCC’s new vendor policy was enacted, four different consultants have dropped her campaign, Newman has said. (On the bright side for her campaign, however, the attention that progressive activists have brought to the vendor rule have helped her raise almost $45,000.)