Photo: AP

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the campaign arm of the House Democratic caucus. The point of the DCCC, in theory, is to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. In reality, its job is to make sure that every Democratic nominee in every swing district is a veteran, a prosecutor, or a veteran who later became a prosecutor.

The latest example of this can be found in New York’s 24th congressional district, in the central part of the state. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported on Thursday that national Democrats essentially created a competitive Democratic House primary by shoving former prosecutor, veteran, and Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams into the race, presumably because they didn’t think Dana Balter—the pro-Medicare For All, pro-living wage, and anti-cash bail college professor whom the local party had already rallied around—could knock off incumbent Republican John Katko.

Perez Williams had been heavily recruited by the DCCC to run against Katko, whose district went for Barack Obama by double digits in 2012 and for Hillary Clinton by four points in 2016, but decided against it. At one point, she wrote Balter a $250 donation. And then:

But the DCCC wasn’t finished with Syracuse. “Juanita is a Latina, an accomplished veteran and prosecutor, and has deep roots and support in the Syracuse region, and she has every right to run for Congress,” Meredith Kelly, a spokesperson for the DCCC, told the Intercept.

Just a few days after her donation to Balter, Perez Williams decided to exercise that right. In a last-minute reversal that has local Democrats incensed, Perez Williams, with the help of the DCCC, launched a paid canvassing operation in early April to attempt to collect enough signatures to land on the ballot ahead of Thursday’s deadline. (She told the local press she is running an all-volunteer canvassing operation, but a flyer offering $15 per hour to canvassers tells a different story.)

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The reasoning for this (as it usually is) is money, as Perez Williams told Syracuse.com that she didn’t think Balter had raised enough to put up a fight against Katko. But if Perez Williams does make the ballot and forces a primary with Balter, it could actually help seal Katko’s re-election, according to Grim:

If Perez Williams does get on the ballot and manages to win the primary, she then has the problem of potentially competing against Balter in the general election. New York allows a single candidate to be on multiple lines on the ballot, and Balter is on track to get the nomination of the Working Families Party. So, if she lost the Democratic nomination, she could still appear on the general election ballot, splitting the progressive vote. Due to New York’s arcane election laws, it would be complicated to get her off the ballot and replace her with Perez Williams, even if she and the party agreed to it. (She would have to be nominated to a different electoral office, which would open up a new “declination” window, during which she could withdraw from the WFP ballot.)

Understandably, the local parties who have been laying the groundwork for a challenge against Katko for a long time were pissed at this late development. Ian Phillips, the chair of the Cayuga County Democratic Committee who was one of four county chairs who signed a letter blasting the DCCC for its involvement, said he was “blindsided” by the move and told the Intercept that, when he asked a DCCC operative why the organization hadn’t coordinated the move with those local parties, the operative’s answer was that he was “managing a lot of different districts and didn’t have time.”

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Phillips is by definition an activist for the Democratic Party, and this was his takeaway from the situation:

Phillips explained that despite criticisms laid out in [a previous Intercept piece on the DCCC] from people he respected, he still felt the DCCC was doing what needed to be done: “People who haven’t raised a dime, don’t have any [campaign], they should run for school board or something, and having conversations with people saying, ‘You know, maybe this isn’t the best fit for you,’ I’m like, I agreed with some of that stuff.”

But the DCCC is quickly radicalizing an entire generation of party operatives on the ground. Now, said Phillips, “I just want to burn it down. These guys are terrible. They’re wrecking races all across the country.“

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The DCCC has been frustrating progressives for almost the entire 2018 election cycle, even going back to last year’s special election in Georgia. In February, the DCCC published an attack on Laura Moser, one of its candidates in a crowded House primary in Texas. Moser was one of several left-leaning candidates in the race, but after the DCCC came out in opposition to her, donations and support poured in from around the country, and she eventually made the runoff. In Pennsylvania, the DCCC opposed progressive House candidate Jess King every step of the way, backing a more establishment-friendly opponent who later dropped out of the race to run in a friendlier district and then eventually decided not to run altogether.

One can blame New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the chair of the DCCC, but the problem predates him by decades. The conventional wisdom of the DCCC is and always has been that only moderates can win in swing districts, even in a wave year; in 2006, when the Democrats took back the House and Senate amid increasing anti-war sentiment, then-DCCC chair and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel led a party that recruited mostly from the center and ignored more liberal candidates who won their primaries. In spite of that, some of them went on to win their general elections.

For all of the talk of the left forcing litmus tests onto Democrats, the party is still completely uninterested in using the ferocious grassroots energy on the left to its advantage, and are still trying to win over an electorate that’s years behind the one that currently exists. Unlike 2006, however, it doesn’t appear that the movement on the Democratic left is going away anytime soon, and if the Democratic establishment can get out of its own way, all of that energy—both against Trump and for a fairer, more just country—might help them win, and actually do something once they do.

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Note: this post originally said New York’s 24th congressional district was in the western part of the state, but, as en eagle-eyed commenter pointed out, it’s more accurately described as being in Central New York.