Democrats drawing up midterm primary hit list

Charles Dharapak

If any of our liberal friends were hoping that the ongoing Democratic civil war might be drawing to a close with the rancor over the BBB Act and the voting bills starting to fade into the background for a while, they’ll need to temper their expectations. The simmering anger hasn’t gone away and the far-left progressives in both chambers are having thoughts of revenge. Rather than focusing their fire on Republicans who appear to be threatening to summon up a serious red wave in the midterms, they are drawing up a hit list of insufficiently progressive members of their own party to target in the primaries. As Hanna Trudo reports at The Hill this week, the list goes much further than just Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Multiple sitting Democrats are in the crosshairs in both the House and the Senate and candidates are being courted to take them out.

Progressives are preparing to try and clear out Democrats they say are hampering their ability to remodel the country while their party still controls Congress.

They see the skeleton Build Back Better (BBB) package and failed voting rights bill as warning signs that a few stubborn lawmakers can – and, if given the chance, will – block and blow up the liberal vision they had dreamed about enacting when President Biden took office.

When things fell further apart last week, leaving the president and congressional Democrats scrambling for a way to advance their two main priorities, progressives saw a clear fix to all of it: primary challenges ahead of November.

Let’s see who made the Democratic Santa’s “naughty list” and will be drawing fire from their own ranks in the coming months. At the top of the scale is moderate Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar. He’s a ten-term incumbent who probably shouldn’t have had much trouble holding on to his position. Cuellar has already been the target of progressive Democrat Jessica Cisneros for a few years and she unsuccessfully challenged him in 2020. Cuellar still retains the backing of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. But as Karen recently pointed out, Cuellar’s position is complicated by recent FBI visits to his home, asking questions about some dubious dealings in Azerbaijan, so he may not be as secure as previously thought.

Carolyn Maloney of New York is being targeted by challenger Rana Abdelhamid, who is hoping to recreate the AOC magic in her home state and knock her out of the primary. Maloney represents the 12th District, primarily on the east side of Manhattan. The 12th is rated as D+34 by Cook so the AOC formula could potentially be replicated there. A the same time, however, things in New York City have been changing over the past year as crime rates continue to rise and extreme progressive policies fall out of favor. The far more moderate Mayor Eric Adams (who was formerly a Republican) carried that part of the city handily, so that race is probably far from a sure thing.

Others on the list of targets include Danny Davis in Illinois and Jim Cooper in Tennessee. On the Senate side, in addition to Manchin and Sinema, progressives want to take a run at Tim Ryan of Ohio. (That one will be a tall hill to climb.)

For any Republicans who are breaking out the popcorn to watch all of this infighting unfold, there’s plenty of action to take some encouragement from. Every Democratic seat that sees a serious primary challenge unfolding will be draining campaign contributions from the incumbents, leaving less ammunition to work with in the general election. And no matter who wins in these primaries, the people in the more vulnerable districts and states are going to have to deal with the negative coattails of President Biden, whose approval ratings are now somewhere in the vicinity of the IRS. (Or possibly an STD.) It should be interesting to watch, so stay tuned. This may well turn out to be one of the more exciting and chaotic midterm elections we’ve seen in a while.