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House Democrats launch PAC to protect incumbents from attacks from within

Progressive groups have been increasingly aggressive in targeting fellow Democrats.

WASHINGTON — Three senior House Democrats have launched a new political group to defend incumbents facing primary challenges, according to the group's founders.

The political action committee, called Team Blue, will fill a gap for members running for re-election who might not be able to get help from the official committees of the Democratic Party to fend off primary challenges.

Democrats aren't taking any risks ahead of a difficult round of midterm elections as they try to hold on to their slim, four-seat majority in the House. Historically, the party of the president has lost seats in Congress in the midterm election.

Those losses could be made worse by tumultuous primary challenges.

Some of those primary challengers enjoy well-funded support from outside groups. Justice Democrats and Courage to Change, left-wing groups that enjoy support from well-known members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have been unafraid to pump money into races to oust Democratic incumbents.

Adding to the risk for incumbents is the coming redistricting process, when incumbent Democrats will find themselves making the case to new constituencies or possibly merged into a district with another member.

The PAC is being established by three rising stars in the House Democratic Caucus: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Terri Sewell of Alabama.

"The House Democratic Caucus is the most diverse and vibrant legislative caucus in the history of the republic," Jeffries said in an interview. "This effort to protect our incredible members is an extension of my job as caucus chair: to ensure that members are successful as elected representatives and building campaigns to communicate with the people they represent."

Because the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, doesn’t engage in primaries and focuses its resources on members in the most competitive districts, Team Blue PAC will help those who might be in safe seats for the party but facing a primary challenger. The group also wants to help members whose seats may seem safe but become competitive at the last minute.

A person familiar with the formation of the PAC said there were complaints from some Democrats about the party’s campaign structure.

“For a long time members have been saying ... that we provide support to the DCCC but the DCCC doesn't provide support to us,” the source said.

The new PAC comes amid a deepening divide over ideological purity among Democrats.

Those on the far left are increasingly arguing that moderates have no place in the party, including drawing hard lines on issues like abortion, racial justice and climate change.

Progressive challengers have had success, including Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted former Rep. Joe Crowley in 2018, who at the time held the same leadership position in the House Democratic Caucus that Jeffries now does. In 2020, Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., were elected after defeating longtime Democratic House members in primaries.

Two of this new group's leaders — Gottheimer and Sewell — represent the more moderate factions of the Democratic caucus, which are more likely to see primaries from the left. Gottheimer is co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and Sewell is a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the Congressional Black Caucus. Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members are also facing primaries from the left.

The group plans to defend progressive members Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who are already facing primary challenges from the far left.

"This is to protect the majority," Gottheimer said in an interview, "and the only way we can win the majority is to have a big-tent party and ensure that our members have resources they need to communicate their accomplishments and the values we all care about."