The U.S. Capitol Building on March 20, 2017. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images.
TYT has learned that another Democratic congressional candidate is refusing to sign a “memo of understanding” asking campaigns to adhere to specific requirements for party “unity” in this year’s House primary and general elections.
Two candidates have now said they will not sign the memo, which was first reported by TYT in December. Two others have signed the memo. Reaction among all four campaigns—and others—ranges from acceptance to apprehension about the goals of the memo, which was sent by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) last month and gave a deadline of December 8.
The DCCC has not said publicly how many candidates received the memo. The memo asked campaigns to agree not to attack other Democrats in their primaries and to attend “unity” rallies afterward.
The two candidates who have not signed include Doug Applegate of California, who seeks to face incumbent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in November and told TYT’s Cenk Uygur, “I haven’t seen [a version of the memo] that I’d sign yet.” The other, previously unreported, is a northeastern candidate in a high-profile race identified to TYT by a senior staffer who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the campaign’s inner workings.
The two who did sign the memo include a northeast incumbent identified to TYT by a campaign consultant, and a candidate in Virginia’s 10th District, Julien Modica, who said that he was dismayed by the DCCC’s apparent favoritism in that race.
Deep Sran, who is also running in the 10th District, said he did not receive the memo. Another candidate in the same district has not signed the memo, according to a source familiar with the campaign, but the source was not able to confirm that the candidate received it in the first place.
Some recipients of the memo told TYT they are concerned that it reflects an attempt by the DCCC to elevate its preferred candidates in primaries.
“While [the] DCCC claims it will stay out of contested primaries, everyone knows that’s not true,” said the northeastern senior staffer. “The MOU felt like a loyalty test for the party with no real benefit to campaigns, especially for progressive, first time candidates. Sign it and they’ll be nice to you without actually helping in any way, or don’t, and they’ll help your opponent.”
The memo imposed a variety of requirements on candidates, including how much they must spend on “paid communications”—which often benefit career consultants close to the party’s establishment—and a commitment to refrain from attacks on rival Democrats, which might be seen to compromise party “unity.”
Last weekend, DCCC southeast Regional Vice Chair Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) sent a fundraising email on behalf of Jennifer Wexton, another candidate in Virginia’s 10th District, to the chagrin of other candidates under the impression that the DCCC will remain neutral.
McEachin, who was elected in February 2017 as a vice chairman for Region 2 of the DCCC—which spans from Virginia to Florida and stretches as far west as Oklahoma—endorsed Wexton, with whom he once served in the Virginia Senate, in April.
“I think it is reasonable to conclude that the party has a favorite in this race,” said Sran. “The party has to be very vigilant about the perception.”
“I’m pretty annoyed,” Modica said. “These sorts of tactics are just foolish.” Modica added that he will “start making inquiries” about the DCCC’s posture in the race.
Wexton, a Virginia state senator, had been recruited by the DCCC to unseat Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). The Northern Virginia district is seen as a ripe opportunity for Democrats.
The district has been Republican-controlled since 1981. But Democratic Governor-elect Ralph Northam won it by nearly 13 percent in the gubernatorial race last November, and Hillary Clinton won it by 10 percent in 2016. Its demographic core is a relatively affluent cross-section of suburban voters whose disdain for Donald Trump could translate this year into a stronger-than-usual showing for Democrats.
The field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination is crowded; at least nine have declared. But while one campaign source said that DCCC national staff have repeatedly imparted to them that they intend to stay resolutely neutral in primaries, two candidates said there is an impression that the party apparatus has coalesced around a preferred candidate with a primary election still months away.
A spokesperson for McEachin would not comment on his role in sending the fundraising email, and referred questions to a spokesperson for the DCCC, who did not reply to questions.
McEachin’s email was sent shortly before New Year’s Eve, a quarterly deadline for candidates to file Federal Election Commission reports, when candidates typically scramble to maximize donations to demonstrate their fundraising prowess. If a candidate can show a robust financial regimen, she can use that as a selling point to attract additional endorsers and donors.
After a flood of additional candidates entered the race, the 10th Congressional District Democratic Committee acceded to calls to hold a state-run primary election rather than nominate a candidate at a convention, an option which would’ve been available under Virginia election law. Wexton, who was originally recruited by the DCCC, was the only candidate surveyed by POLITICO who did not explicitly support holding an election.
A representative for one of the Democratic campaigns in VA-10 said the email appeared to be an inauspicious sign, but declined to comment on the record for fear of agitating the DCCC. The candidate hadn’t signed the memo.
Leaked documents reported on in 2016 revealed that DCCC operatives often took steps to bolster their preferred candidates and undermine those deemed less desirable, while maintaining an appearance of impartiality.
Read the first piece in this series, “Leaked Memo: Democratic Campaign Committee Demands “Unity” of 2018 Candidates.”