An official from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was secretly recorded admitting to tipping the scales away from a progressive Democrat toward a more moderate one. That official was St. Mary’s County Congressman Steny Hoyer.
Hoyer has represented Maryland’s 5th Congressional district, where St. Mary’s College of Maryland is located, since 1981. During his tenure, he has climbed the ranks within the Democratic party, ascending to the number two spot, house minority whip. It is in that capacity, on the behalf of the DCCC, that Hoyer met with a progressive Democrat, Levi Tillemann, and urged him to drop out of his Congressional Democratic primary race, according to the Intercept.
Since 1995, Hoyer has been a member of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Board of Trustees.
When Hoyer and Tillemann met in a Denver hotel, Hoyer said that the DCCC has a “policy that early on, we’d try to agree on a candidate who we thought could win the general and give the candidate all the help we could give them.” That help includes “extra resources from the DCCC,” namely money, according to Vox.
Officials from the DCCC maintain that they have been transparent in their support of candidates throughout the primary elections. The DCCC’s National Press Secretary, Tyler Law, said in a statement, “we have been clear all cycle that we reserve the right to get involved in primaries to ensure that there is a competitive Democrat on the ballot in November.”
But, many progressives argue that the organization’s involvement counteract democratic ideals. Tillemann pushed back against Hoyer in their meeting, arguing it was unjust for “a decision [to be] made very early on before voters had a say.” Tillemann, then, asked Hoyer if he thought that “the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District?”
“Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual and very interesting” Hoyer responded, “but if you stay out of primaries, and somebody wins in the primary who can’t possibly win in the general [it is] not [a] very smart strategy.”
Vox reports that party officials claimed they would remain neutral in Democratic primaries, but “the secret recording of Hoyer makes it clear the party isn’t doing that.”
“Progressive candidates are finding that the DCCC has mobilized support for moderate candidates with access to early campaign cash at the expense of progressives,” according to The Intercept. By financing their opponents, many argue, the DCCC is effectively preventing grassroots campaigns from taking off.
Hoyer’s office defended his statements, according to The Baltimore Sun. When asked about the recording a communications aide said, “Whip Hoyer is committed to taking back the House, and that involves working with local leaders to identify and support the strongest candidate for that district.”
“In terms of candidates and campaigns, I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election,” the number one Democrat, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said of the recording.
“The [Democratic] party, notably, has a poor track record in selecting candidates that can win the general election,” Lee Fang writes in The Intercept. Fang cites 2006 surprise victors who were also deemed too left-leaning to win by the DCCC.
Progressives say that this is a trend within the DCCC. Tillemann campaigned on election integrity, fighting climate change, “Medicare for All,” free community college and “confronting economic inequality and monopoly power,” according to the Intercept, while his opponent, Jason Crow, is more business friendly.
Such mirrors the situation other progressives have faced. Mai Khanh Tran was urged to drop out of the running for Congress in California after the DCCC sided with a former Republican, Gil Cisneros, according to The New York Times. Pennsylvania progressive Democrat Greg Edwards told The Morning Call that he was urged to withdraw from the primary by national DCCC representatives who back a more moderate candidate, despite having led the field of Democrats in year-end fundraising reports. Laura Moser, another progressive, had to defend herself after the DCCC posted “a short but brutal collection of hits” against her on their website, according to The Washington Post.
Yet, some left-leaning pundits support the DCCC actions. Eric Levitz of New York Magazine wrote a piece titled “Rigging’ Primaries Is Fine. Backing Bad Candidates Isn’t” about the Hoyer tape, arguing, “in toss-up districts with crowded primary fields, and a conspicuously strong (or weak) general election candidate … it might be wise for the DCCC to intervene.”
Tilleman is under fire from the Democratic leadership for both the substance of his argument and the methods he used to get the audio recording. “I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi told reporters according to Vox.
“This was a very difficult decision to make … I respect confidentiality and I respect privacy” Tilleman told The Baltimore Sun.
DCCC strategy is in the news right now as the midterm elections approach. Both the Democratic and GOP primaries will take place on June 26, 2018.