The lawmakers want to position themselves as problem-solving moderates and paint a “new” portrait of the Democratic Party for their constituents. “When I’m in my community, I think a lot of times people have read the news, and they are concerned because they see one message about what’s happening in Washington, and then they see me,” Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, told me this week.
“From my perspective, there has been an overwhelming focus on a small number of members in our caucus who did not flip seats, who did not help win the House,” Slotkin said at a recent breakfast announcing the effort in Washington, D.C. While she did not name names, Slotkin was likely referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar—all of whom were elected in solidly blue districts in November. (Slotkin’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarification as to whom she was speaking about.) She told the room that her constituents “want more pragmatic voices sticking up for us. And we don’t see enough of that [in Congress].”
The moderate group’s goal is to show “that leaders from service backgrounds have a lot to offer our politics, and can be part of the solution of getting Congress and our political system working better,” according to David Heifetz, the chief communications officer at New Politics, a bipartisan organization that recruits candidates from the military and intelligence communities, as well as alumni of national-service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. The leaders say they plan to spend the next year and a half hosting fundraisers and policy briefings around the country, as well as highlighting other women service members who are active in state and local politics. “When I was successful in winning this seat, it was important to me to make this permanent,” Houlahan told me, referring to the steadily increasing number of women and women veterans in Congress. Last year, each of the five women touted her military experience as something that made her uniquely qualified to work in Congress, pledging to put “the mission above partisanship.”
“We came into this knowing each other already and knowing instinctively that [we] are the workhorses” rather than “show ponies,” Slotkin said at the recent breakfast. Houlahan, who represents a district outside Philadelphia that is fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, said bipartisanship matters “very much” to her constituents. That’s likely true of many voters. Indeed, the ideological makeup of the actual Democratic electorate seems to lean toward the center. Fifty-six percent of Democrats self-identify as “moderate,” and 9 percent embrace the label “conservative,” according to an April poll from the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy.
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Four of the five women involved in the Victory Fund won in heavily Republican districts last fall, and the lawmakers believe that their pledge to work across the aisle is ultimately what helped them. For that, some mainstream Democrats argue, they should be getting more recognition. “[Ocasio-Cortez] and a few others have become the face of the Democratic Party at a time when the real story … [is] the story of these women,” Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the former chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist ideological group in the Democratic caucus, told me. “They are all about persuading skeptical people to vote Democratic. It was them that made [winning the majority] possible.”