Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath was the feel-good story of the congressional primaries on Tuesday night, beating Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in her first run for office. McGrath made an early splash with a viral campaign ad about how, as a teen, she began a letter-writing campaign lobbying Congress to allow women to serve in combat. That ad wasn’t enough to stop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from reportedly recruiting Gray into the race—a move that allowed McGrath to seize the insurgent mantle and run against the party establishment.
But by the time she declared victory on Tuesday night, there were already signs Washington Democrats had come around on McGrath, who as both a first-time female candidate and a military vet, should fit in nicely with the larger narrative the party is eager to tell this cycle.
If McGrath was the lone blemish on Tuesday night, the DCCC also had good reason to celebrate. At least four different ones, actually.
In four of the most crucial Houses races with primaries on Tuesday, Democratic voters selected the DCCC’s preferred candidates.
The DCCC’s biggest victory of the night—and arguably the entire primary season to date, given how embarrassing a loss would have been—came in Texas’ 7th Congressional District, where attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher crushed progressive journalist-turned-activist Laura Moser. The group was so desperate to keep Moser from the nomination that it went nuclear on her earlier this year, publicly releasing its own oppo file and sparking an intra-party fight with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. The move seemed to backfire, when Moser received a surge of donations, and finished in the top two in the March primary. Thankfully for the DCCC, the progressive fire for Moser burned bright but not long. By the time Tuesday rolled around, the DCCC had backed off, and other races had taken center stage. Fletcher will now square off with GOP Rep. John Culberson in a district Hillary Clinton won narrowly two years ago.
The stakes weren’t as high, nor as personal, in two other Texas runoffs, though the DCCC’s favorites won both of those as well. Gina Ortiz Jones, a retired Air Force intelligence officer who worked as an Obama trade official, won by about 35 points in the 23rd Congressional District, and Colin Allred, a former NFL football player turned civil rights attorney, won by roughly 40 points in the 32nd District. Both will now try to take down GOP incumbents in districts Clinton also won, and which—along with the 7th—represent Democrats only realistic chances to flip seats in the Lone Star State, according to nonpartisan handicappers.
It was the same story in Arkansas’s 2nd, the only district in the state expected to be competitive this fall. The DCCC’s handpicked candidate there, state Rep. Clarke Tucker, won nearly 60 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff with one of his more liberal, but lesser-known rivals. Tucker’s center-left strategy has echoes of the one Conor Lamb used to win a high-profile special election in western Pennsylvania earlier this year, and House Democrats believe he can use it to take down Rep. French Hill in a district that went for Donald Trump by 10 points, but that was represented by a Democrat as recently as 2010.
The DCCC steered clear of a crowded fight in Georgia’s 6th District, where Rep. Karen Handel survived a surprising challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election last year. Ossoff declined to run again, and the race filled with a few intriguing prospects. The two who advanced to a runoff on Tuesday night were gun-control activist Lucy McBath and businessman Kevin Abel. A third candidate, a former local TV anchor, got some help from Steny Hoyer and Blue Dog Democrats along the way. But McBath has the backing of EMILY’s List, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and gun control groups, and should prove plenty palatable to the establishment.
The DCCC has had its share of hiccups this year, notably in Nebraska last week, where their preferred candidate lost to a proudly liberal challenger, and the race was promptly downgraded by prognosticators. In Texas, where the group’s unusual attack on Moser caused them a headache of their own making, losing to Moser would have led to some soul-searching about whether the party’s intervention was doing more harm than good. And the real test will come in two weeks, when Democrats also face a handful of potentially make-it-or-break-it primaries in California, where a quirky primary system could mean a few GOP-on-GOP general elections in races that would otherwise be winnable. But for now, at least, the DCCC should be feeling pretty good.