The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added political strategist Lauren Underwood and former NFL player Colin Allred to its “Red to Blue” list — the first black candidates this cycle to win that level of DCCC support.

But within hours, Allred’s primary runoff opponent, Lillian Salerno, accused the DCCC of siding against women.

“Folks here are sick and tired of a bunch of Washington insiders trying to make their decisions for them,” Salerno, running for Texas’s 32nd Congressional District seat, said in a statement. “Texas hasn’t elected a new woman to Congress in twenty-two years, and we’re not taking it anymore. The DCCC would do well to remember: Don’t mess with Texas women.”

The DCCC had been monitoring Allred’s campaign, and was in talks about the “Red to Blue” list after he scored 38.5 percent of the vote in the March 6 primary. (Salerno’s 18.3 percent got her into the May 22 runoff.)

As of Thursday, 19 female candidates were on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list, a designation that “arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to run strong campaigns,” according to the committee.

But since late February, when the DCCC published opposition research on Texas candidate Laura Moser, some candidates have been jumping at the chance to attack the committee tasked with electing a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, the DCCC had also taken a meeting with The Collective PAC, an organization founded to elect black candidates — one that has not been shy about demanding more from the Democrats.

“Look, we know that 2018 is looking like a year where we’re going to see big Democratic wins,” said Quentin James, the co-founder and executive of The Collective PAC. “We want to ensure that the Democrats being elected around the country are representative of the party as a whole. And we’re concerned with the money being withheld from candidates of color, particularly black candidates.”

James, who co-founded the PAC with his wife two years ago, has been unafraid to chastise Democrats. The PAC drew national attention last year, when it attacked a labor union for leaving Justin Fairfax, now the lieutenant governor of Virginia, off a flier for the rest of the Democratic ticket. (Fairfax had broken with other candidates over an energy pipeline backed by the union.)

On March 7, the Jameses sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee and six other party groups with three demands:

  • By June 5, the committees needed to convene meetings on “strategy to recruit, train and fund more candidates of color.”
  • By Aug. 28, they needed to produce a plan for carrying that out.
  • By the week of the midterm elections, they needed to “convene major democratic and progressive donors” to move forward on the plan — or else.

“We believe if these three commitments are not made by you and the democratic organizations you chair — in addition to the prioritization of a policy agenda that will directly improve the well-being of communities of color — progressive voters and voters of color should immediately begin developing a 2018 electoral strategy that does not include supporting your organization,” the Jameses wrote. “Nor should we support any candidate or elected official who refuses commitments around ensuring communities of color are equally represented in every level of elected office in our great nation.”

That letter helped Quentin James get meetings with the DNC and DCCC, and he came away optimistic. The DCCC, he said, committed to spending $25 million right away on outreach to “women and people of color,” eight months ahead of the midterms. The DNC, which had used its March party meeting to introduce members and media to several nonwhite candidates for Congress, was just as receptive.

“We were surprised with what happened and excited with the progress being made,” James said. “The DNC committed to doing all three things that we’d asked of them.”

The DCCC would not comment on the funding number, or on anything else related to campaign investments, but it acknowledged that the meeting took place.

“We deeply value the perspective and ongoing partnership with Collective PAC,” said DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly.

The DCCC also declined to comment on something that has cooled some tensions between candidates and the party — a commitment that it will not go after a candidate backed by The Collective PAC. Rummi Khan, the campaign manager for Florida congressional candidate Pam Keith, said that he had been told of that commitment this week, after weeks of frustration at what Keith saw as Washington groups meddling in her primary. Lauren Baer, her main primary opponent, had been added in a previous “Red to Blue” update, angering the Keith campaign.

“It’s unfathomable to us why national party folks are picking the weaker candidate in this race,” Khan said. “Look at Pam’s profile: Women are winning, veterans are winning, local candidates are winning — not D.C. insiders who moved back home to run. People want authenticity, and Pam is not a stump speaker. She speaks from the heart.”

Cathy Myers, a candidate in Wisconsin’s 1st District, also hit out at the DCCC for adding union organizer Randy Bryce to the list. While Bryce has become one of the party’s fundraising phenoms, outraising Myers by a 10-to-1 margin, Myers characterized the DCCC’s move as an example of inherent sexism.

“[We] will not be deterred by the DCCC’s latest attempt to silence a Democratic woman,” Myers said in a statement.