early and often

Progressives Win Some, Lose Some in House Primaries

Marquee progressive House candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Oregon. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer: Photo: Jamie McLeod-Skinner Campaign

On the night of May 17, Democratic progressives were pleased with the statewide victories of John Fetterman in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate primary and of Tina Kotek in Oregon’s gubernatorial primary. But even as the defenestration of Madison Cawthorn in a North Carolina Republican primary soaked up much of the attention paid to House races, there was drama on the Democratic side. In each of these states, progressives faced centrists with mixed results.

The left appears to have won the evening’s marquee House primary in Oregon as Jamie McLeod-Skinner holds a strong lead over seven-term incumbent Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog heretic and pharma favorite who was nonetheless endorsed by President Biden. The only real doubt stems from a ballot problem in Schrader’s stronghold of Clackamas County that is slowing results there, but it’s unlikely Schrader will win by a big enough margin in Clackamas to surmount McLeod-Skinner’s overall 61–39 lead with more than half the vote counted. The district leans Democratic but could become a GOP target in November. Among other things, McLeod-Skinner is attempting to become the West Coast’s first openly lesbian member of Congress.

Another big (and still unofficial) progressive win came in Pittsburgh, where a House seat held by 14-term incumbent Democrat Mike Doyle seems to have been won by state legislator Summer Lee, who edged out attorney Steve Irwin. Doyle endorsed Irwin to succeed him, while Lee was backed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But much of the drama in the race stemmed from Irwin’s heavy backing by the United Democracy Project, a group created by the pro-Israeli organization AIPAC. The UDP poured over $2 million into the contest, reportedly out of concern for Lee’s regular criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The UDP (and Democratic moderates) did better in North Carolina. In a relatively blue district in the northeastern part of the state, the primary to succeed another veteran House Democrat, Congressional Black Caucus member G.K. Butterfield, was easily won by State Senator Don Davis, who has supported some abortion restrictions in the legislature. Davis was endorsed by Butterfield and benefited from UDP spending motivated by some criticisms of Israel from former state legislator Erica Smith, who was backed by Warren and several progressive groups. Similarly, in a Research Triangle district represented by retiring longtime congressman David Price, Durham County commissioner Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman to hold an elective office in North Carolina, drew strong national and local progressive support, but she lost the primary to State Senator Valerie Foushee, a Black legislator backed by the AFL-CIO, EMILY’s List, and UDP. Aside from more conventional sources of campaign cash, Foushee benefited from sizable donations from eccentric crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect Our Future PAC, which has selectively and massively become involved in the 2022 Democratic primaries.

Another Protect Our Future beneficiary in an ideologically charged primary was Kentucky state senate minority leader Morgan McGarvey, who was running against state legislator and racial-justice advocate Attica Scott in a Louisville district being vacated by retiring congressman John Yarmuth. McGarvey was endorsed by Yarmuth and heavily outspent Scott, who was backed mainly by progressive organizations; McGarvey won by a comfortable margin.

But the biggest spending explosion by Protect Our Future came in Oregon’s Fifth District (which includes the state capital, Salem), where the PAC threw in over $11 million on behalf of first-time candidate Carrick Flynn, who lost to state legislator Andrea Salinas. This wasn’t so much an ideological contest as a test of Bankman-Fried’s clout; he apparently backed Flynn heavily because of their shared commitment to “effective altruism,” a data-based philosophy concerned especially with long-term pandemic-prevention measures. Somewhat mysteriously, Flynn drew serious money from a PAC associated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well.

The perennial “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” will continue in future midterm primaries, but it’s off to a good start with victories by both sides on Tuesday.

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Progressives Win Some, Lose Some in House Primaries