The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Progressives rage at DCCC after it attacks Texas candidate for ‘begrudgingly’ moving to Houston

Laura Moser, a candidate in a Democratic congressional primary in Texas. (Michael Stravato for The Washington Post)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is taking fire from the left after months of relative peace, thanks to a document put online the night of Feb. 22 — a collection of opposition research on Laura Moser, a progressive candidate in Texas’s competitive 7th Congressional District.

As Moser was attending a campaign event, the DCCC posted a short but brutal collection of hits on Moser that would be likely used against her if she won the Democratic nomination. The 7th District is one of 23 where Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump in 2016, while voters sent a Republican congressman to Washington.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” the committee wrote. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”

Moser responded later Thursday night, saying in a statement that the DCCC’s tactics represented “why people hate politics” and hurt the effort to take Congress back from Republicans.

“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives,” she said.

Moser did relocate to her native Houston last year and began running for Congress, with her move back home — after launching Daily Action, a campaign tool for progressives frustrated by Trump — as part of the story.  The DCCC, which has seen plenty of candidates brought down by residence issues, came to view her as unelectable.

The 2018 midterms are fast approaching. First up: Primary fights for both parties’ future.

“Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold [Republican Rep. John Abney] Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district,” said DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly. “Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’s 7th in November.”

The DCCC’s memo hit Moser for paying Revolution Messaging, the firm where her husband, Arun Chaudhary, had worked since 2012, to produce her TV ads. But its main attack lines were backed up by an article Moser wrote for Washingtonian in 2014, where she joked that she’d “sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than move to her grandparents’ home in Paris, Tex. Paris is a small city more than 300 miles from the 7th District; the DCCC warned that voters would not process the nuance.

Both Moser’s campaign and the DCCC saw her in a strong position to win one of two runoff slots in the March 6 Democratic primary. With early voting underway, and Democratic turnout in Houston’s Harris County undergoing a historic surge, the DCCC pounced.

But the way it did so, advertising what Republicans might use to beat Moser, sparked outrage across the left. At Daily Kos, a popular group blog that crowdfunds for Democratic candidates, a diarist wondered whether the move against Moser “may have something to do with the candidate selection role the Blue Dog Coalition is playing at the DCCC.” The People for Bernie Sanders, a progressive group organized to support the Vermont senator’s 2016 presidential campaign, called “for the DCCC board to investigate how the decision was reached and publish the findings publicly.” There was an additional factor: Revolution Messaging had worked for Sanders, and Chaudhary had worked as the campaign’s photographer.

Clashes between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the party’s main committees are not new, but they have reached new levels of fervor in the 2018 cycle. The Democratic National Committee, entangled in controversy after hackers released internal email about its handling of the 2016 primary, has lagged the Republican National Committee’s fundraising by a 2-to-1 margin. In 2017, as progressive candidates made headway in special House elections in Kansas and Montana, progressive activists badgered the DCCC for not getting involved early — especially as Republican super PACs jumped into those races to help their candidates.

Moser is not the only progressive candidate in the district primary, and several of her rivals back universal Medicare, which has become a litmus test on the left. But her race has attracted national attention as an example of progressive candidates bristling as well-established Democratic organizations backed their rivals. On Thursday morning, the Intercept, which has been publishing articles on how the DCCC works, highlighted Moser’s race and the involvement of Emily’s List with party donor Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Late Thursday night, after the DCCC’s memo was published, the Intercept published an update: “DCCC GOES NUCLEAR, SLAMS DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE AS CORRUPT FOR SAME BEHAVIOR IT ENGAGES IN REGULARLY.”

The DCCC’s swing into Texas might be a preview of what’s to come. In California, where the state’s top two primary process could lead to Democrats splitting the vote, crowding themselves out of competitive races, the DCCC is widely expected to intervene in favor of certain candidates.