The Congressional Progressive Caucus Is Trying Something New: Winning Primaries

The CPC’s PAC threw big money into a race for the first time and lifted Mondaire Jones to victory. They’re doing it again for Beth Doglio in Washington.

The Washington State House of Representatives convenes for floor debate, February 12, 2020.
Beth Doglio convenes for floor debate at the Washington State House of Representatives on Feb. 12, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Beth Doglio's campaign

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, fresh off a first-in-its-history win in a New York primary, is turning next to an open seat in Washington state. The CPC, founded in 1991 to organize progressives within the House Democratic caucus, has never previously been an electoral powerhouse, with its political action committee exerting its little influence by contributing $5,000 to candidates it supported. 

In 2018, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used its considerable weight to help centrist candidates beat progressives in open primaries, the CPC mostly stayed on the sidelines. In New York this year, the CPC finally got into the game — and got a major return on its investment.

In a race to replace the outgoing Rep. Nita Lowey, the CPC set up an independent expenditure arm and spent nearly $200,000 helping Mondaire Jones clinch the nomination against a field of better-funded, more corporate-friendly candidates. Now the CPC wants to replicate that success in the race to replace outgoing Rep. Denny Heck, a leading member of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition who is retiring after serving five terms to run for Washington lieutenant governor.

The CPC is throwing its weight behind state Rep. Beth Doglio, who backed CPC Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal during her first run for Congress in 2016 in an open primary, and has been her ally since. Out of a field of 19 Democrats in the primary in Washington’s 10th Congressional District, a solidly blue district that includes Olympia and part of Tacoma, Doglio is one of three viable candidates.

The race was briefly on social media radar thanks to an autistic, democratic socialist candidate, truck driver Joshua Collins. Known on Twitter as @Joshua4Congress, he used popular meme formats to try to spread his left-wing message and largely ran his campaign online. He also cultivated a large following on TikTok and urged these followers to join his Discord server, a chat platform used primarily by gamers — campaign strategies that earned the 26-year-old candidate media coverage in several major outlets. But after he disappeared from Twitter and Instagram for a day in May without an explanation, some of his supporters began to turn on him. Danni Shull, Collins’s communications and political director, attempted to shut down the speculation, and said the “nonstop” notifications “make it nearly impossible for him to unplug” and sleep, so he deactivated his profiles to get some rest. Though he was originally running as a Democrat, he dropped the affiliation and is now running under the banner of the “Essential Workers Party.” In June, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Doglio, dealing a mortal blow to Collins’s campaign.

In the last quarter, which ended on June 30, Collins raised just $22,500 and has largely receded from visibility. That leaves Doglio, state Rep. Kristine Reeves, and former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Strickland would be the first Black person to represent Washington state in Congress, as would Reeves, who is both Black and Latina, but neither has put up the kind of record that would excite national progressives. Instead, the CPC just launched $140,000 worth of TV ads in support of Doglio’s campaign, which supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal

“She’s awesome. … She will be a fantastic progressive partner for me in the state delegation.”

Jayapal, the most outspoken progressive in the Washington delegation, has helped organize support for Doglio. “She’s awesome,” said Jayapal. “Willing to take on power, willing to do the work, willing to push for bold ideas like Medicare for All before they are popular and the only one not taking corporate PAC money in the race. Only one willing to confront the abysmal state of for-profit healthcare in this country that has been illuminated with COVID. She will be a fantastic progressive partner for me in the state delegation.”

On Thursday, she will also pick up the endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, according to Doglio’s campaign and a Warren spokesperson. That comes on top of backing she already has from Sanders, Jayapal and her fellow CPC Co-Chair Mark Pocan, Reps. Katie Porter and Jamie Raskin, along with a number of local labor unions and advocacy groups. She has the backing of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and if she wins, she’d be the only openly bisexual member of the House. 

The CPC ad, which is slated to run through the August 4 primary, focuses on Boglio’s support of Medicare for All and willingness to stand up to “corporate special interests.” “Only Beth Doglio is bringing people together behind Medicare for All, guaranteeing quality health care for everyone — with no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays,” a narrator says in the 30-second ad.

One of her major opponents, Strickland, was mayor of Tacoma for nearly a decade and went on to serve as president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group that spent exorbitant amounts of money on behalf of Amazon in the recent City Council elections trying to oust a progressive/socialist majority. As mayor, Strickland fought against a $15 minimum wage, and welcomed fossil fuel projects that faced local opposition, including a liquified natural gas project and a methanol plant. Doglio, before her election to the state House, was a climate activist who helped kill multiple coal projects. 

Doglio and Strickland are neck and neck in fundraising, having raised $571,651 and $565,474 respectively, according to the most recent FEC filings. 

Kristine Reeves, as a state representative, has cast a number of votes that have rankled progressives, including on environmental, affordable housing, and eviction issues. She has an impressive biography, however, having experienced homelessness and spent time in foster care as a child. She has the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD PAC, as well as a number of unions, including Laborers’ International Union of North America, the local Teamsters, as well as the state’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Education Association. Unlike Doglio, Reeves accepts corporate PAC money, as does the CHC’s PAC. Asked about the CPC’s back of Doglio, Reeves issued a statement pointing to her endorsements and emphasizing that, if elected, she would be the first Black person to represent the Pacific Northwest in Congress.

“As a working mom of two, an Afro Latina who grew up in and out of foster care and directly experienced homelessness as a teenager, I’ve benefitted thanks to strong investments in progressive programs like Headstart and public schools, so I know that if we are going to really change Congress, we have to start by changing who we send there to represent us,” Reeves said in the statement.

Rep. Adam Smith, a powerful Democrat in Washington who previously represented portions of the district prior to 2012, has lined up behind Reeves. 

Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, in its endorsement of Doglio, reminded readers that as a longtime environmental activist, she had successfully blocked fossil fuel projects. “We are not sending anyone to Congress from a reliably blue district who does not unequivocally support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. The only person who fits that criteria in this race—and who actually showed up to our fucking meeting—is Beth Doglio, the two-term House Rep from Olympia,” the paper wrote, dinging Joshua Collins for missing his meeting. 

Doglio is in her second term in the state House, where she has pushed through legislation requiring already completed commercial construction to meet serious carbon footprint standards and muscled through $75 million to spend on retrofitting those buildings. She also passed legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s Janus decision (which gutted public sector unions) that allowed part-time public workers to unionize, passed a major affordable housing bill, and successfully battled the chemical industry. The first bill she introduced as a freshman in 2017 was on police accountability. 

The CPC PAC’s June spending in support of Jones was part of a total of $1 million the group has vowed to spend. The group has also endorsed J.D. Scholten in Iowa, Georgette Gómez in California, and Candace Valenzuela in Texas, and is planning to spend on some of those races in the general election.

“We’re seeing how critical it can be for progressive candidates to put together the staff, planning, and financial resources necessary to run and win in their districts,” said Evan Brown, CPC PAC’s political director. “We’ve intensified our efforts to invest in and support the work that our endorsed candidates are doing on the ground to organize in their communities, build grassroots coalitions, and communicate with voters.”

Update: July 23, 2020, 3:31 p.m. ET
This article has been updated to include a comment from state Rep. Kristine Reeves that was received after publication.

Correction: July 23, 2020, 7:11 p.m. ET
An earlier version of this article overstated the amount of money the DCCC spent directly in primaries in 2018.

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