By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
Three years ago, we helped write a report for RootsAction.org targeting 15 corporate Democrats in Congress who deserved to be “primaried.” We called the report “Bad Blues.” A common reaction back then was that those establishment pols were too strong and entrenched to be defeated.
On Tuesday, yet another “Bad Blue” apparently went down to defeat – with seven-term Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon running way behind community activist Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the slowly tallied Democratic primary.
Schrader is not the first “Bad Blue” on our list to face defeat by a progressive challenger. And he’s unlikely to be the last.
The incumbent heavily outspent McLeod-Skinner – thanks to lavish funding from big pharma and other corporate PACs – but Schrader was out-organized on the ground. McLeod-Skinner called him “the Joe Manchin of the House.”
The current vote count indicates that constituents in that Oregon district will no longer be represented by a Democrat who obstructs progressive initiatives on Capitol Hill, such as drug pricing reform and Build Back Better. (Despite his blockage of Democratic measures, Schrader was endorsed in the primary by Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)
Next Tuesday in South Texas, Henry Cuellar – now the only anti-abortion House Democrat – may be ousted in a Democratic primary runoff by progressive immigrants’ rights lawyer Jessica Cisneros. As we wrote in our 2019 “Bad Blues” report, Cuellar is so corporate that he gets funded by the Republican-allied Koch Industries PAC.
But it’s not just Koch Industries that supports Cuellar against Cisneros. It’s also Pelosi. And that’s the crux of the problem – a blue wall of corruption and incumbency.
Bad Blues in the House rely on support from old-line Democratic leaders like Pelosi and Jim Clyburn, and cash from corporate PACS that fund the leadership of both political parties.
The good news is that Bad Blues are being ousted by progressives who rely on small donors and support from grassroots activists.
Speaker Pelosi reaffirmed her endorsement of Cuellar against Cisneros even after the FBI raided Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters last January as part of a corruption probe. Then she doubled down on her endorsement of the anti-choice incumbent just days ago, even after the Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked. Meanwhile, as the number-three House Democrat, Clyburn recently campaigned in Texas for Cuellar against Cisneros.
It’s worth remembering – and might be a source of inspiration – that the top of the blue wall of corruption is getting weaker and near retirement. The Democratic House leadership trio of Pelosi, Bad Blue Steny Hoyer and Clyburn are aged 82, 82 and 81 respectively. Well-funded by corporate interests, they serve the status quo. Running on an aggressive change agenda (Green New Deal, Medicare for All, etc.), the grassroots-funded Jessica Cisneros is not yet 30.
Of the 15 Bad Blues we identified in 2019, two have chosen to retire from Congress, and two were primaried and defeated back in 2020. Democrat-in-name-only Dan Lipinski was defeated in the North Chicago suburbs by liberal activist Marie Newman. And then in one of the most stunning upsets in recent U.S. politics, 16-term Rep. Eliot Engel from New York – the hawkish chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – was ousted from Congress by educator Jamaal Bowman, who promptly joined the progressive “squad.”
Bowman, after being recruited as a candidate by Justice Democrats, got into Congress because of a grassroots campaign that involved activists from many groups, including the Working Families Party and Democratic Socialists of America.
On his path to Washington, Bowman owed no favors to big donors or to the status quo Democratic leadership. He arrived in Washington ready to fight for the progressive reforms needed by his working-class constituents in the Bronx and Westchester.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner, as the replacement for Bad Blue Kurt Schrader, would not be beholden to any of the many corporate PACs that supported him.
And if Jessica Cisneros can defeat Cuellar on Tuesday in South Texas, she’ll be ready to fight for the interests of her working-class district.
And the rest of us will gain a congresswoman who can help chip away at a blue wall of corruption.
Jeff Cohen is co-founder of RootsAction.org, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.