Politics

Taped Conversation Reveals How National Democrats Try to Dissuade Insurgent Challengers

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12:  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) talks with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture founding Director Lonnie Bunch at the conclusion of a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives memorialized the day that Nobel Peace Prize and American civil rights leader King was killed while supporting a sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Intercept released audio of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer urging former Energy Department official Levi Tillemann to drop out of the Democratic primary for a Colorado House seat, in order to help another candidate, Jason Crow. In the conversation, Hoyer tries to explain why party leaders have put their thumb on the scales for certain candidates in Democratic primaries this year. From the Intercept:

“Yeah, I’m for Crow,” Hoyer explained. “I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn’t know Crow. I didn’t participate in the decision. But a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation,” he said, referencing the three House Democrats elected from Colorado.

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[…] “Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual, and very interesting,” said Hoyer. “But if you stay out of primaries, and somebody wins in the primary who can’t possibly win in the general,” the Maryland representative said, citing the surprise victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election, “I’m not saying you’re that person.” But staying out of primaries, he argued, is “not very smart strategy.”

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The DCCC has been criticized by progressive activists in recent months over its perceived preference for moderate candidates and interventions in primary races. In February, the group released opposition research on Laura Moser, a House candidate in Texas, who had been endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ group Our Revolution. The DCCC’s move appeared to backfire, when Moser got a surge of fundraising after the committee posted its oppo, and it may have helped carry Moser into next month’s runoff.

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Tilleman, a progressive running on Medicare for All among other proposals, may be hoping for a similar bump. After secretly taping the conversation with Hoyer and providing it to the Intercept, he has been promoting the story on his Twitter account. Tilleman has trailed Crow, a corporate lawyer, in fundraising for most of the race. Crow was placed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) list of candidates in target “Red to Blue” districts in November. The winner will face Rep. Mike Coffman in what is considered a toss-up race this November.

During her weekly news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the recording of Hoyer’s comments. “I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” she said. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”

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