With 38 endorsed candidates, the political arm of the moderate New Democrat Coalition is hoping to play a significant role helping Democrats win the House majority next month, and in doing so, grow their own business-friendly caucus.
The coalition’s political action committee, founded in 2005, got involved in races earlier than ever before this cycle — at times choosing favorites in competitive primaries. It also hired a political director for the first time and has been able to help raise more than $2 million for candidates from members and donors.
House Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to retake the chamber. At least 17 of the candidates endorsed by NewDemPAC are in races for GOP-held seats that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates either a Toss-up or favorable to Democrats. (Additional recruits who could help Democrats win the majority are on the group’s watch list, which means they’ve received some financial assistance but not a full endorsement and PAC check.)
NewDemPAC has been involved with some of these candidates since the primaries and before they were named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list for strong recruits.
It added Texas Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher to its watch list in late March — before her Democratic primary runoff with Laura Moser in the Houston-area 7th District. The PAC added California Democrat Katie Hill to its watch list at the same time, before her primary with 2016 nominee Bryan Caforio in the 25th District.
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NewDemPAC’s involvement in crowded primaries sometimes put it at odds with powerful Democratic groups. For example, the PAC added Dave Min in California’s 45th District to its watch list, while the pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List backed Katie Porter, the eventual Democratic nominee. Five candidates on the PAC’s watch list, including former Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford, ultimately lost their nominating contests.
Only one candidate running in GOP-held seats and endorsed by the New Democrats is not currently on Red to Blue — Chris Hunter in Florida’s 12th District.
Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, who chairs the New Democrat Coalition, and California Rep. Scott Peters, the chairman of the NewDemPAC, downplayed the narrative of intraparty fissures that emerged during the primaries. Both leaders said they’re in regular communication with Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Late last month, the chairs of a broad range of Democratic congressional coalitions signed a “unity letter” pledging to support Red to Blue candidates in the general election.
Peters expects Democrats to gain somewhere between 35 and 40 seats in November.
“I’ve never seen this kind of enthusiasm. Our candidates are the ones that are going to win,” he said in a phone interview last month, noting that the PAC’s members and staff have worked with recruits to help shape messaging that works in purple districts.
Part of that coaching is avoiding the temptation to talk about President Donald Trump.
“We know that despite all of the content on Twitter and reaction to what Trump said today, people care about what happens at the kitchen table and economic issues,” Peters said.
Building its ranks
Fletcher first met with members of the coalition even before deciding to launch her campaign, and she’s found those conversations as well as assistance from the PAC to be helpful when talking to voters in her district as she challenges longtime GOP Rep. John Culberson. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.
“Pragmatic, pro-business, common sense but socially progressive” is how Fletcher described the coalition. “And that’s very much in line with my district,” she said.
Trade and the president’s tariffs have come up a lot on the trail this year. Fletcher said she often gets questions about infrastructure, too.
“People in my district are asking about what solutions are out there,” she said. Her conversations with members have been helpful when talking to voters about policy, she said, allowing her to say: “There are actual people advocating for these solutions — if we could just get more of them.”
Sixty-eight House Democrats are current members of the New Democrat Coalition.
“The NewDems don’t define us this way, but we happen to be the caucus that has the expertise of winning in Republican districts,” Himes said.
(He acknowledged the group doesn’t have a monopoly on that expertise, noting the Blue Dog Coalition, whose members often win in more conservative areas, too. Some Democrats are members of both groups.)
“Sometimes the messaging that comes out of the caucus is more appropriate for deeper blue districts than the ones where NewDem candidates are,” Himes said.
But it’s not up to the New Democrats to figure out what works best in each district, he added.
“The idea that Jim Himes in Connecticut knows what a candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, knows what to do is a crazy idea,” he said.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Indiana's Mel Hall to Red to Blue after publication.