How the left could win even if Democrats lose
House progressives see a route to expanding their power over the next year, even though they're being accused of dragging down other Democrats by pushing the party's image too far left, Axios has learned.
Why it matters: If Democrats lose their majority in the midterms, a strengthened left could emerge more influential in a diluted, disillusioned Democratic Party.
What we're watching: Tuesday's primaries in Texas will be a first big test of progressive's midterms strategy.
- The Congressional Progressive Caucus' political action committee has endorsed two leading candidates in open primaries, Greg Casar in Austin and Jasmine Crockett in Dallas.
- In the 28th Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio south to the U.S.-Mexico border, progressive Jessica Cisneros is mounting another primary challenge to centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose house was recently raided by the FBI.
- Cisneros came within four points in the 2020 primary.
The big picture: A wave of Democratic retirements has given progressives multiple openings to target seats for a shift left.
- In New York, moderate Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) is running for governor and progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi has announced a bid to succeed him.
- In Pennsylvania, progressives including state Rep. Summer Lee are running to replace retiring Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).
- Progressives also are eyeing seats in North Carolina, California, Illinois, Maryland and Florida being vacated by non-CPC members, and plan to make more endorsements throughout the cycle, Axios is told.
By the numbers: The CPC has enjoyed explosive growth since Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential primary bid reinvigorated the party's left flank.
- The caucus has ballooned from 68 members after 2014 to nearly 100 now, growth that's largely been unaffected by the Democratic Party's fortunes.
- When Democrats lost 13 House seats in 2014, the CPC's numbers stayed unchanged. The same happened in 2020, when Democrats again lost 13 seats.
- That's because Democrats in districts most likely to flip to Republicans tend to be more conservative, while progressives often hold safer seats.
Don't forget: Progressives last year pumped the brakes on portions of President Biden's agenda in a quest for their whole wish list.
- The CPC used its strength and unity to repeatedly delay a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill until it secured assurances on a larger social spending bill.
- But if that episode showcased progressives' newfound strength, it also revealed their limits: Biden eventually persuaded them to pass infrastructure funding, while the social spending bill appears dead.
- Progressives also point to getting provisions in the American Rescue Plan and the China competitiveness bill, as well as pressuring the Biden administration on evictions and placing allies in administration jobs.
What they're saying: "I think that there are really good opportunities. ... I do think we stand to increase the number of progressives," CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Axios during an interview.
- Jayapal also isn't ruling out leveraging her faction's growing strength to launch a rumored leadership bid.
- "I've thought about it, but ... it's so fluid," she said. "I've had conversations about it, and people have talked to me about it. ...Certainly, if there are skills I can bring, I would do it. But we don't know what it even looks like."
Reality check: While progressives boast that legislative priorities such as the Build Back Better Agenda and a $15 minimum wage passed the House, those bills keep stalling in the Senate.
- CPC is seeking to exert pressure on the White House by releasing a list of executive actions it wants Biden to implement.
- If Republicans retake Congress, they would blunt progressive gains.