A group of moderate Democrats who lost their House seats in the 2020 elections after Republican foes labeled them too liberal have formed a new political action committee to prevent their ex-colleagues in swing districts from suffering the same fate.
Seven former Democratic lawmakers and two Democratic candidates are hoping to counter GOP messaging with early spending and advertisements. They serve as an advisory role for SHIELD PAC – an independent entity that the center-left think tank Third Way launched to protect incumbents and ensure Democrats keep their majority in the House.
Former Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D), who lost his upstate New York district by 109 votes, said part of the challenge was defining himself after Republicans began airing ads in his district in November 2019. More spots followed, tying him to liberal activist proposals such as defunding the police. Brindisi pushed back on those claims, going as far as to get a local sheriff to defend him in an ad, which in the end didn’t succeed.
“I’m very concerned,” he said. “Look, the House Republicans are very organized now and when you couple in a less than favorable redistricting map for Democrats, we really have to act now to protect these moderates in these tough races in 2022.”
The group plans to counter the GOP’s messages by advertising in the first quarter of 2022 before the blitz in the fall, said Matt Bennett, senior vice president of Public Affairs at Third Way, who helped establish the PAC. The messaging will drive home to voters the incumbents’ backgrounds and positions on issues.
Democrat’s frustration over the effectiveness of the GOP’s attacks erupted in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election when Democrats lost more than a dozen seats and managed to flip only a single district – a loss made more devastating by expectations that Democrats would pick up a dozen seats. During a private conference call after the election, centrist Democrats lashed out at their more progressive members for pushing more leftist views.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said Republicans will again use the 2020 playbook in the midterm elections. NRCC spokesman Michael McAdams said in a statement the former lawmakers were “sore losers” who “chose to vote with Nancy Pelosi’s socialist agenda instead of their districts and voters held them accountable.”
Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D), who also lost last year, said it was difficult for her to get her message out in her South Florida market given numerous other races fighting for time on the airwaves. She said SHIELD PAC’s early approach is “exactly what I wish I would have had early on in my campaign.”
Democrats face challenges in retaining control in the House, where their majority is thin. History is on the side of the GOP as the party not in the White House tends to do better in midterms. The predominance of Republican-controlled statehouses gives the party an edge as states undergo redistricting. Democrats currently have a 218-211 majority with six vacancies.
The PAC won’t decide which candidates to back until after district lines are drawn, Bennett said. The group hopes to participate in roughly a dozen races for incumbents in swing-districts, he said.
Bennett said while attack ads aren’t new, he sees a path for moderates to overcome them. Joe Biden wasn’t damaged by the GOP’s attacks in his presidential race because voters knew his record after four-plus decades of public service, Bennett said.
“When it came to these freshmen members – they didn’t have either the name ID or the public profile to withstand this barrage of malarkey that is coming at them,” Bennett said, tossing in a phrase associated with Biden.
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org