In early 2017, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced 17 congressional representatives as part of its Frontline program, enacted under the pretense that these elected officials hold seats vulnerable to Republicans — about half of whom are freshman congressional representatives. The program has existed over the past few election cycles since 2010 to “help these Members again build strong campaigns, maximize resources and take advantage of the energy from the grassroots,” said DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan in a statement announcing the program’s members this election cycle.
When the program was first enacted in 2010, it focused more on building within congressional districts rather than for specific campaigns. The Washington Post reported in August 2010, “The committee’s plan, outlined by party strategists, also includes a series of house meetings Aug. 21 and a ‘Nationwide Day of Action’ on Aug. 28, when Democratic volunteers will knock on some 200,000 doors.” Since then, the Frontline program has rolled out much sooner in the election cycle, and has focused on supporting the campaigns of incumbent campaigns rather than grassroots engagement after the primaries.
Among the DCCC-backed incumbents are Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida), who VICE listed recently as one of the “top 10” incumbent Democrats progressives should challenge in primaries. They cited Representative Murphy’s tendency to support the Trump administration’s policies disproportionate to her constituency’s expected votes in line with Trump, meaning her district could easily sustain a more progressive representative. Hillary Clinton won Murphy’s district by seven points in 2016, though Murphy only won her race by three points. Still, the district has trended more toward Democrats since. Murphy is one of several DCCC-backed incumbents who are members of the Blue Dog Caucus, the conservative arm of the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party should be putting forward individuals who know how to represent the people, not just individuals who they think are vulnerable,” said Chardo Richardson, a Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats backed candidate and former ACLU Central Florida board member running to unseat Representative Murphy in the Democratic primary. “If a Democratic incumbent is vulnerable, it’s because they are weak in their voting history, weak on the issues, weak on their representation.” Representative Murphy’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Representative Murphy is among the Democratic holdouts in the House who have not co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation, which Richardson is running on. Murphy has stressed bipartisanship in Congress, and insisted that Democrats can still work with Trump after a meeting with him in September 2017. Further, Richardson argues, Murphy is being backed by the DCCC as a “vulnerable” incumbent due to her weakness on the issues, rather than the demographics in the district.
“Vulnerable is right,” Richardson said. “Get them all the help you can because the people are no longer willing to let our government be run by weak individuals who cannot stand up to corporations and big banks who borrowed more than their fair share from the people, and owe a debt that has yet to be repaid.” He went on to characterize Murphy as a politician who has no pulse on the communities she represents, emblematic of elected officials who often say one thing to get elected, then forget about those who voted for them.
Murphy is just one of a handful of candidates who are part of the DCCC’s Frontline program who face viable primary challenges. “The DCCC’s support of Tom O’Halleran is proof the Democratic Party has not abandoned its dismal history on civil rights,” said Miguel Olivas, who is challenging Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Arizona) in the Democratic primary. Representative O’Halleran previously served as a Republican state senator in Arizona for eight years before switching to Independent, then switching again to Democrat to run for Congress in 2016. Olivas was O’Halleran’s 2016 primary challenger, winning more than 40 percent of the vote in that race.
“As a Republican state senator and now as a member of Congress, O’Halleran has voted consistently with anti-LGBTQIA, anti-women’s health and anti-Hispanic/minority groups,” Olivas added. Representative O’Halleran did not respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-New York) is also receiving support through the DCCC’s Frontline program. “For a party that didn’t want Suozzi to win the primary in 2016, they are doing everything but considering the one candidate who is an actual Democrat and can keep this seat blue,” said Josh Sauberman, a progressive challenging Suozzi in the primary. Representative Suozzi did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of the original candidates placed on the DCCC Frontline program in 2017 have been removed due to their decision against running for re-election. Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) is running for U.S. Senate instead; Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minnesota) is retiring; and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nevada) won’t run again after a former staffer accused him of sexual misconduct in December 2017, which incited calls for his resignation from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC.
The DCCC is openly backing candidates through both their Frontline program and Red to Blue program, which pushes establishment candidates in wide open primaries to challenge Republican seats. Instead of providing resources to Democratic Party chapters within these districts to develop long-term infrastructure, the DCCC is helping to shield many incumbents who are facing competitive Democratic primaries designed to hold elected officials accountable to the party’s base. State parties have also put in place barriers to primary challengers and progressive candidates across the country, such as in California, where party leaders have used their own version of superdelegates and arbitrary rule changes to prevent petition challenges from the California Democratic Party formally backing several Democrats facing more progressive candidates.
The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment.