If Dems lose the House, Sen. Warren may be to blame
Unnecessary progressive primary challenges could prove costly
DEMOCRATS HAVE an Elizabeth Warren problem.
With control of Congress too close to call – and potentially coming down to 1 or 3 seats – national Democrats are Monday morning quarterbacking messaging and money allocation decisions in the final weeks.
Rather than pointing fingers, many Democrats should be looking in the mirror. The Democrats’ chance of winning the House this year were harmed by unnecessary primary challenges, several led by prominent US Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. At least one seat appears to have been lost already. And the Democratic Party’s larger branding problems, stoked on by Warren’s 2020 presidential run and misreading of the electorate, continue to be a drag on swing-seat candidates.
On Friday night, with Democrats holding a narrow path to a House majority, a previously safe Democratic seat flipped from blue to red. In 2020, Joe Biden won by 9 points in Oregon’s 5th District, a congressional district not represented by a Republican since Bill Parcells was in Foxboro.
Democratic incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader had won his last five races in this district by 7 points or more.
But Schrader, like all humans born the last two millennia, is not pure, and his policy differences with the far-left elite warranted a primary challenge (despite being pro-choice, etc). Jamie McLeod Skinner, who gained prominence and credibility because of a Warren endorsement, ran against Schrader in the Democratic primary.
Warren is “an unusually popular candidate among political journalists and White professionals with college degrees.” Unfortunately for Democrats, fewer than 36 percent of Oregon-05 voters are Whites with college degrees (a majority, 53 percent, are Whites without a college degree). A Warren candidate can deliver the news stories and the dollars – and an unnecessary, successful primary challenge.
How to measure success? This Oregon “Warren Democrat” (she has her own branded faction, you know) won the primary over the incumbent Democrat Schrader. Then she lost the general election, in a seat Joe Biden won by 9 points and with control of Congress closer than any election since 1930.
It was not just Oregon. Warren also trekked to Texas to meddle with a Democratic incumbent, supporting a primary challenge. Luckily, Warren’s candidate lost that primary and Democrats held the seat.
Warren Democrats can deliver distractions, primary victories, and may achieve their goal of moving the Democratic Party leftward ideologically. But they don’t deliver votes for Speaker. Political science research shows primary challenges hurt incumbents.
But to be fair, nothing in the official description of Warren Democrats says anything about winning a Democratic majority.
Warren burst onto the scene in 2012, beating Republican Scott Brown by 7 points
At that point, the Commonwealth’s Republicans were only 18 years into their November dry spell for electing a member of Congress. Brown was popular. So pundits looked the other way at President Obama running 16 points ahead of her and deemed Warren the future of the party.
How’s that working out?
Out of the 100 Senators, Warren ranks 97th in relative popularity, as measured by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. She is 25 points below the state’s partisan lean, which means Warren ranks last out of all Democrats in the US Senate.
And then there is her presidential run. Here is how current Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon described it ending: “Warren pushed the other candidates leftward” and “many of Warren’s ideas may end up ‘winning,’ even if she couldn’t.”
Warren didn’t win in 2020, even losing 8 out of 10 Democratic primary voters in Massachusetts.
That leftward push drove Democrats to lose House seats in 2020, according to the candidates in competitive districts. Democrats barely hung onto the House. But in 2022 it appears Republicans, with an assist from Warren, will finish the deal.
In the decade since Warren’s victory over Brown, Massachusetts Republicans are 0-94 in federal elections. The 2012 data point on Warren popularity was misread at the time, and every data point since points to her being out of step with voters. It is not just 2018 and 2020. Just ask Shannon Liss-Riordan.
Warren and her ideas are “unusually popular with journalists.” With voters, however, not as much.
Is democracy truly under threat? Some in the Massachusetts delegation have acted like it – in 2018, Seth Moulton recruited a slate of military veterans who flipped seats and Joe Kennedy criss-crossed the country as a top surrogate and fundraiser. Many of the new members they helped elect noted that Rep. Katherine Clark was one of the first calls they received to help keep them in office. In 2022, Jake Auchincloss raised more than $500,000 for vulnerable Democrats when he wasn’t leading canvass trips up to Maine’s 2nd District to re-elect his roommate, Rep. Jared Golden, in a Trump district.
Judging from Warren’s actions, priorities of her limited time and resources include knocking off the Democrats who make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker. Why else would she be endorsing in primaries where seats should be won by Democrats – or at least were won by Democrats until she got involved.
Some Democrats flip seats. Some flip off their colleagues – and help Republicans flip control.
Nationally, Democrats and democracy have an Elizabeth Warren problem. If it continues, Massachusetts Democrats must give Elizabeth Warren a problem. Let’s hope there is a plan for that.
Liam Kerr is an organizer of Priorities For Progress and co-founder of WelcomePAC.