May 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Establishment Democrats hail wins over progressives in Oregon

A donkey split in half against a blue backdrop.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios.

The Democratic establishment is finding vindication in what its members see as key wins over progressives in Tuesday night's Oregon primaries.

Why it matters: It's part of an ongoing battle between Democrats' two main ideological factions that has seen centrist and pro-Israel groups attempt to oust several members of the progressive "Squad."

  • "I think the voters were sending a signal last night that they support pragmatic ... candidates who have experience, who have results," Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the center-left New Democrat Coalition, told Axios.

What happened: Progressive House candidates Susheela Jayapal and Jamie McLeod-Skinner decisively lost their respective primaries Tuesday to more establishment-backed opponents.

  • Oregon's 3rd: Jayapal, a county commissioner who is the sister of Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), lost to state Rep. Maxine Dexter.
  • Oregon's 5th: McLeod-Skinner, the 2022 nominee in the district, lost to Democratic leadership-backed state Rep. Janelle Bynum in her bid for a November rematch against Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.).
  • Portland: Progressive Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt trails his opponent Nathan Vasquez, a Republican-turned-independent who ran as a tough-on-crime alternative to Schmidt.

What's next: Among the other top targets of moderate and pro-Israel groups are Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) both of whom are viewed as underdogs in their upcoming primaries against pro-Israel challengers.

  • Efforts to oust Squad members have so far come up up short, with Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) prevailing in her primary last month. Others, including, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) haven't even drawn challengers.

Zoom in: The 3rd district race in particular played out as a proxy battle between the Democratic Party's pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian flanks.

  • Dexter was the beneficiary of millions of dollars in outside spending, some of which has reportedly been traced back to pro-Israel groups and donors.
  • Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), a progressive who endorsed the third-place finisher in the race, told Axios: "My take on this is that we absolutely have to get dark money out of politics, whoever is wielding that."

What they're saying: Rep. Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.), a swing-district Democrat who endorsed Bynum, told Axios: "When we're local and focused on economic issues and pragmatic issues, voters clearly pretty decisively respond."

The other side: Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), a progressive who supported Susheela Jayapal in her race, said the money poured into the 3rd district "should concern everyone."

  • Pocan also argued that the 3rd district should not be framed as a moderate win over progressives because all three candidates scored 100% on the Congressional Progressive Caucus' candidate questionnaire.
  • The 5th district outcome, meanwhile, "was very candidate-specific," rather than indicative of a broader trend, he said.
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