Most pollsters predict the Democrats will lose their Senate majority in next month’s midterm elections, but the Progressive Change Campaign Committee thinks they have a strategy to avoid this outcome, and it involves what they call the “Warren wing” of the party.
PCCC and MayDay PAC have poured over $US2 million into this year’s Senate races in order to build a “firewall” around a group of Democrats they see as staunch liberals and economic populists in the mould of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). The two groups are separate entities. PCCC is focused on promoting a progressive political agenda, while MayDay, which was founded by Harvard Law School professor and activist Lawrence Lessig, is dedicated to campaign finance reform. However, MayDay recruited the PCCC’s independent expenditure team to manage several of its efforts this cycle and, in those races, the PAC’s efforts are clearly aiding the “Warren wing” strategy.
“This is a tough election cycle for Democrats, no question about it. It took some Democrats far too long to realise that their best chance to win was by campaigning on Elizabeth Warren’s economic agenda,” PCCC spokesman T.J. Helmstetter told Business Insider, adding, “There’s a reason Warren is the most in-demand surrogate on the campaign trail even in red states like Kentucky and Georgia: Democrats are starting to understand that appealing to the middle class on issues like expanding Social Security, raising the minimum wage, and reducing student loan debt is the way to appeal to voters of all stripes.”
The PCCC’s “Warren wing” group includes four incumbents; Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado). Polls show both Franken and Merkley are secure, but Udall is in a tough race and Schatz had to survive a competitive Democratic party to move on to the general. In addition to the incumbents, PCCC is backing businessman Rick Weiland in South Dakota and Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for Senate in Iowa. Both Weiland and Braley are in competitive races. PCCC is also backing Democrat Shenna Bellows in Maine, though polls show her far behind incumbent Republican Susan Collins.
Helmstetter described these candidates as “Elizabeth Warren’s strongest allies.” Warren did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Business Insider.
The bulk of the money going to PCCC’s “Warren wing” has come from MayDay PAC, which is being run by the committee’s Independent Expenditure team. MayDay has spent over $US1.25 million backing Weiland in South Dakota and, on Saturday, the PAC announced a $US1 million effort supporting Orman in Kansas. In addition, PCCC has given over $US200,000 to MayDay and over $US500,000 in small dollar donations to its “Warren wing” slate.
Helmstetter explained why he believes the PCCC’s “Warren wing” can add up to a majority for the Democrats.
“If Democrats are able to hold the Senate, it will be because of this group of candidates who hail chiefly from the middle of the country in purple states but who aren’t afraid to run as bold progressives and economic populists,” he said.
According to Helmstetter, the road to the 50 seats needed to retain the majority goes through South Dakota, Iowa, and Colorado. In addition to the 34 Democratic seats not up for re-election, the PCCC believes there are 12 safe races for Democrats. They are also optimistic that Greg Orman, an Independent candidate running in Kansas, will caucus with the Democrats if he wins his race. That means victories from Weiland, Braley, and Udall would keep the GOP from getting the majority.
Obviously, this scenario is quite optimistic for Democrats in an election where most prognosticators predict the GOP will win a majority. However, even if the PCCC’s ideal scenario doesn’t play out, Helmstetter argues that the number of close races featuring “Warren wing” candidates in an unfavorable cycle for Democrats is proof the party should embrace Warren’s populist ideals going forward.
“Win or lose, the Democratic Party should realise that its best path to distinguishing itself from Republicans is to stand up to the big banks and big money, and follow Elizabeth Warren’s lead,” said Helmstetter. “It’s not enough to talk the talk, Democrats have to walk the walk in the next Congress to fight for middle class families.”
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