Apr 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Ousted Democrats start PAC to defend moderates in 2022

Then U.S.-Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) speaks at a podium outside the US Capitol with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
Then-U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) speaks at the podium standing with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus in 2020. PHOTO: Cheriss May/Getty Images

Centrist congressional Democrats who were defeated in the 2020 election have banded together to create a political action committee to defend U.S. House moderates in the 2022 midterms.

Why it matters: A first-term president’s party historically has lost seats in Congress in the midterm elections, and the GOP just needs to flip a handful of seats in 2022 to regain control. Ousted centrist Democrats believe that they were defeated in 2020 by Republican challengers who distorted their records, and the unseated lawmakers need to defend their former colleagues.

The details: Former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) is joining former Reps. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) and Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) to launch Shield PAC to defended endangered Democrats.

  • All three were defeated by Republican challengers who ran ads that falsely claimed they supported Medicare-for-all. the Green New Deal, defund the police, and socialism.
  • "I'm a capitalist. I'll always be a capitalist. They just said things about my record that weren't true," Torres Small told Axios. She lost her southern New Mexico seat to Republican Yvette Herrell.
  • Torres Small, who entered Congress with the same freshmen class as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), openly worked with Republicans on rural and poverty issues and shunned Twitter fights and media attention.

What they're saying: “In every single ad that was put up, they would distort my record,” Cunningham told The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty. He lost his re-election bid by a single percentage point.

The intrigue: Shield PAC hopes to raise $26 million to defend moderate Democrats in swing districts that will likely determine which party controls the U.S. House.

  • Among those the PAC seeks to defend are U.S. Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), and Cindy Axne (D-Iowa).

Third Way, a national think tank that champions modern center-left ideas, founded Shield PAC after seeing moderate Democrats fall to misinformation campaigns in 2020. 

  • "We realized we needed to do more to protect moderate Democrats," Matt Bennett of Third Way told Axios.
  • The former U.S. House members serve as advisory members of the new PAC.

Between the lines: U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, is already signaling that the GOP will use the 2020 playbook to target vulnerable Democrats.

  • "We will relentlessly hold House Democrats accountable for their socialist agenda and ensure voters understand the damaging impact (of) policies like defunding the police," Emmer said two months ago.

Don't forget: Torres Small in 2018 flipped a traditionally Republican district in the heart of the state's oil and gas country by running ads of herself shooting a rifle and emphasizing the need to protect the energy industry.

  • Two years later, more liberal, white New Mexico Democrats worked to oust moderate Hispanic state lawmakers in the state's rural areas while Torres Small faced unfounded attacks from Republicans for allegedly supporting the Green New Deal.
  • This week, a predominately white New Mexico Democratic committee chose a progressive white woman as the party's nominee in the June 1 special election to fill Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's former U.S. House seat in a heavily Latino district.
    • Republicans have proposed a Hispanic state lawmaker.
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