Centrist

Power to the Person – The American Prospect

Maggie Toulouse Oliver seemed tailor-made for the political moment. New Mexico’s 44-year-old secretary of state had bootstrapped her way up from a troubled Native American family, put herself through college as a working single mother, become a leading progressive activist (heading the state’s League of Conservation Voters), and then supervisor of elections in Albuquerque. In 2016 and 2018, Toulouse Oliver won double-digit victories for secretary of state. She earned national acclaim as an innovator in ramping up voter participation, running secure elections, combating sexual harassment in the state capital, and bringing dark-money donors—most notably, the Koch brothers—into the light of day. Ask just about any New Mexico Democrat to describe her, it seems, and the word comes back: “She’s tough.”

Last year, she put that toughness to a new test. As expected, three-term Democratic Sen. Tom Udall announced in March 2019 that he’d be retiring rather than stand for re-election. A month later, to no one’s surprise, Toulouse Oliver announced a run to become the first female senator from New Mexico. Her launch video, aptly named “Possibilities,” told her compelling backstory and made it clear that her gender and heritage were far from the only changes she’d bring to the Senate: Toulouse Oliver would champion Medicare for All, student debt relief, sweeping immigration reform, equal pay, and serious gun control. She was determined, she said, to “set off the alarm on climate change instead of ringing the bell of ignorance.” Flashing a winning smile at the camera, she concluded, “that’s why I’m running for U.S. Senate. Because I still believe anything is possible in America.”

Maybe, maybe not.

Toulouse Oliver was well aware that she’d have competition in the Democratic primary. Senate seats don’t open up often, and with Democrats dominating New Mexico over the past couple of decades, there were plenty of young-ish politicians eager to climb the ladder. Even before Toulouse Oliver’s quick announcement, she’d been beaten to the punch by Ben Ray Luján, the six-term congressman from Santa Fe. While Luján had never run statewide, he was the scion of one of the most powerful Democrats in New Mexico; his father, Ben, had been speaker of the state House, where he’d served for more than 30 years. In Washington, the younger Luján had risen to number four in House leadership through the usual means: raising truckloads of money. In 2018, he’d chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, making him Nancy Pelosi’s chief deputy in charge of recruiting the “right” kinds of candidates to run, and raising and dispersing $300 million to protect incumbents and boost the party’s chosen newcomers. To put it mildly, the dude had connections.

“We knew from Day One that we were going to be out-fundraised,” says Toulouse Oliver’s campaign manager, Heather Brewer. “A single mom from New Mexico was always going to be outspent by a former chair of the DCCC.” But while Luján would have a lock on big corporate donors, Toulouse Oliver’s campaign had reason to think she’d be very appealing to important funders like EMILY’s List, along with insurgent left-wing groups and—if she could catch on nationally—tons of small donors. “She had a lived experience different from anybody in the U.S. Senate,” Brewer says. “Plus Maggie was the more progressive; she’s always been a huge advocate on government transparency, and Luján had accepted a large amount of special-interest money. There was going to be a unique choice here.”

But Toulouse Oliver wasn’t going to have just one formidable opponent; she would have two. Because, as she soon learned, she’d have to run against the entire Washington Democratic establishment. On April 18, more than 13 months before the primary, the Senate’s campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), endorsed Luján. So did Pelosi. It was a power move designed to “clear the field,” in Washington parlance, and the two other leading Democrats pondering a bid, state Attorney General Hector Balderas and Rep. Deb Haaland, dropped out immediately. They understood they’d be facing the Democrats’ version of the Death Star.

More from Bob Moser

While the DCCC, which intervenes early and often in House primaries, tends to garner more press attention—and more howls of protest from progressives—the DSCC is just as powerful and intrusive. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s hand-picked favorites gain an insurmountable financial advantage and the establishment stamp of approval, effectively ending most primary elections before they begin. Schumer doesn’t just choose between candidates who’ve declared their interest or started to run; he aggressively shapes the races to suit his narrow idea of “electability,” sometimes elbowing the “wrong” candidate out of the race with strong-arm tactics. And when he’s not happy with his choices, Schumer goes out and finds his own, recruiting centrist candidates with big-donor connections who often turn out to be lackluster campaigners at best.

Toulouse Oliver didn’t want to give in. She’d fought uphill her whole life. But she and her campaign were about to get a hard lesson in exactly why, since 2010, not a single candidate endorsed early by the DSCC had lost a Democratic primary.

BREWER SAYS she had tried several times to get DSCC Chair Catherine Cortez Masto or her boss, Schumer, to meet with Toulouse Oliver and see what she had to offer. “They never returned my phone calls,” Brewer says. “We were just ignored.” They had no illusions that the establishment would go against Luján, she says. “We just wanted the opportunity to make the case that they should stay out of the primary. Two strong, viable progressives were running. Given the Democratic edge here, whoever won the primary was going to win the general election. This was the race. Why shouldn’t New Mexicans be able to decide between two worthy candidates?”

For candidates left unchosen by the DSCC and the Schumer machine, “there are so many, many, many obstacles that you wouldn’t see if you’re on the sidelines,” Brewer says. “It’s all designed to keep outsiders from even trying.” The highest, hardest hurdle is raising enough money to compete. “We were told again and again, if you can hold Luján’s financial advantage to 10-to-1, you’re doing great,” Brewer says. When the party committees decide to weigh in on a primary and pick their favorite, they aren’t just pledging to put millions behind him or her, along with other valuable campaign resources (organizers, consultants, fundraising pros); they’re signaling where other Democratic donors should invest as well—and which candidates they shouldn’t bother with. But the party doesn’t stop there. “I understand, from what we were told, they were using their influence to get organizations who’d endorsed Maggie, or thought about supporting her, to stay on the sidelines,” Brewer says.

When the candidate met with donors and progressive organizations that would be expected to be friendly to her effort, Brewer says, “We got a lot of paternalistic reactions: ‘Are you sure you want to take on this fight? Because it might come back to bite you.’ What you couldn’t help hearing was, ‘Why aren’t you putting your pretty little dress on and waiting for another time?’”

Toulouse Oliver managed to raise enough to staff up her campaign last spring and summer. But that was just one challenge it had to meet. Top-level campaign vendors—pollsters, field organizers, fundraisers—have grown increasingly wary of taking on non-establishment candidates. And for good reason: Last year, the DCCC announced that it would blacklist any campaign vendor that worked on a primary challenge to a Democratic incumbent. By implication, that also meant steering clear of any challenge to party-endorsed candidates altogether. “The DSCC didn’t spell it out the same way,” Brewer says, “but they didn’t have to. If you go with an insurgent candidate, you’re done. ‘You cross us, and we’ll cross you.’ It cast a shadow over everything about how people approached Maggie’s campaign.”

One person who didn’t take Toulouse Oliver lightly was her opponent. Just two days after she bucked the DSCC and officially announced she was running, Luján—whose voting record on the environment had been mixed—declared he would be co-sponsoring Green New Deal legislation in the House. A month later, he said he would—like Toulouse Oliver—refuse to accept corporate PAC money. In June, he tacked left again, coming out for Medicare for All. And in August, he became the highest-ranking Democrat to call for an impeachment inquiry.

By that point, he’d effectively appropriated most of the big issues that Toulouse Oliver was campaigning on. And, no surprise, he was also raising big bucks. By October, Luján had $1.6 million in the bank. Toulouse Oliver had $85,000 heading into the final quarter of the year. “We did polling,” Brewer says, “and we still had a path to victory. It was an ugly, scorched-earth path, though.”

At the end of October, after six months of fighting the system, Toulouse Oliver withdrew, throwing her support behind Luján and celebrating the small-but-unsatisfying feat of pushing him to the left. For the rest of the campaign, she’d continue working as secretary of state to make voting easier—work that will, of course, benefit Luján in November.

The DSCC had won again. Field cleared, check! Months later, Brewer, who’s been working in New Mexico politics for two decades, still hasn’t gotten over it. “You’re going 100 miles an hour trying to fight the establishment, and then—bang, it’s over. This policy of hamstringing challengers, strong-arming vendors, warning donors not to give to challengers—it’s completely contrary to the Democratic spirit. What they’re doing is shutting out different voices. It’s not OK.”

IT USED TO BE a rare thing for the national Democratic committees to step into—much less step on—party primaries. “The party’s traditional view was that you should be neutral until the states or districts picked a nominee,” says Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House Speaker who served on the Democratic National Committee in the late 1990s. But since the mid-2000s, under the leadership of Pelosi, Schumer, and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the notion that voters should choose their own nominees has become an anachronism.

Schumer made his bones in the Senate by chairing the DSCC during his first term, in the 2005-2006 cycle, making good use of his home-state ties to Wall Street. From the start, he’s shown no hesitation about meddling in primaries—and no interest in changing his ideas about what an “electable” candidate looks like, despite the fact that his handpicked recruits have regularly bombed in winnable general elections. This year, the strategy of fixing primaries has reached its logical zenith: In every single state where there’s an open Senate seat or a vulnerable Republican, the DSCC has chosen an early favorite. That adds up to a lot of states this time around—four in which Democrats are favored to win (Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico), and seven more where they have fair-to-middling chances (Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, Texas).

The DSCC, of course, says it’s all a matter of pragmatism. The rationale for preventing voters from choosing Democratic nominees is supposedly to avoid “divisive” primary battles that drain resources and goodwill heading into general elections. And the choice of candidates is based on cold, hard calculations of what it’ll take to win a particular state. “These are not decisions made on a whim or a popularity contest,” Dan Sena, who ran the DCCC in 2018, said when questions were raised about this year’s Senate picks. “These are decisions that are very well thought-out, take time to develop, and often they’re critical to being able to flip a seat.” DSCC spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua put it more simply: “We’re working with the strongest candidates who will help Democrats take back the Senate.”

So what does the lineup of “strongest candidates” in key 2020 races look like? Eight of the 11 are white. Six are men. Three have never run for any office. Six have never won an election. All but two oppose both the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. All but one—the Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, the lone African American on the list—are demonstrably more conservative than their main rivals bypassed by the DSCC.

Schumer doesn’t just choose between candidates; he aggressively shapes the races to suit his narrow idea of “electability.”

The list of viable contenders rejected by the DSCC is a study in contrast. The tone was set with the first early endorsement of the cycle: A couple of weeks before the committee chose Ben Ray Luján over Maggie Toulouse Oliver last April, Schumer’s blessing went to former astronaut Mark Kelly in Arizona, a political novice who only registered as a Democrat in 2018, over Rep. Ruben Gallego, a 39-year-old rising star in the progressive caucus who’d long been planning to run. (Gallego subsequently opted to bow out.)

Another Schumer recruit was rolled out in June 2019 in the state every Democrat would most love to win: Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky. Democrats there, and many progressives around the country, had gotten fired up about the prospect of an out-of-the-box challenger to the self-proclaimed “Darth Vader of the Senate,” who’s never lost in six Senate elections and also never been liked: Twice over the past year, McConnell’s approval ratings in Kentucky hit a rock-bottom 18 percent. Matt Jones, a 41-year-old Eastern Kentucky native with the gravelly drawl to prove it, started Kentucky Sports Radio after finishing Duke Law School, and has become one of the most beloved figures in the state, mixing politics into his sports talk and specializing in McConnell takedowns. “For a lot of this state, I’m their one progressive friend,” he told me last summer, when he was still considering a tilt at the McConnell windmill.

Like other Kentucky Democrats, Jones had watched with mounting frustration as McConnell demolished a series of well-funded centrists backed by the DSCC. Kentuckians mostly vote Republican now, and they gave Trump a 30-point blowout margin in 2016, but they’ve still elected Democrats to the governorship three of the last four cycles. Jones couldn’t help wondering, “What if you stand up for progressive economic values and do it with a down-home Kentucky spin?” His hope was that the DSCC, which he calls “a complete disaster when it comes to selecting candidates,” would stand back and give him a chance to test his theory. “Kentucky is a blue-collar, anti-establishment state,” he says, “The reason that people like Trump here has nothing to do with ‘issues’ per se. They like him for the exact same reason they don’t like McConnell. To beat him, you’ve got to run somebody who runs against his mainstreamism.”

The DSCC did not stand back, of course. It never reached out to Jones. Instead, Schumer wooed Amy McGrath, the ex-Marine who came up just short in a House race in 2018. McGrath is running straight down the middle, emphasizing “country over party,” and raising a ton of money—just as the DSCC favorite in 2014, Alison Lundergan Grimes, did, before losing to McConnell by 15 points. Jones ultimately decided to stick with his radio network and channel his McConnell animus into an upcoming book, Mitch, Please. The whole thing left him, and a lot of his fans, anguished. “I was looking at this and saying, ‘I’m thinking about taking on the most powerful senator since LBJ. I’m going to do it as a radio host, and risk having people turn on me for good and ruining my career if I lose. And then there’s Schumer coming along to say that I’m going to have to run against the Democratic establishment as well.’”

Join the club, Matt. With Jones out of the running, first-term state Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville, an African American, stepped up late last year to give McGrath some competition from the left with a scrappy grassroots campaign touting Medicare for All and universal basic income.

And so it went, throughout 2019. In Iowa, where first-term Republican Joni Ernst looks eminently beatable, the DSCC came out in June for real-estate executive Theresa Greenfield, another first-time candidate, over two young progressives with broad appeal who’d been looking to run: J.D. Scholten, whose grassroots populist campaign nearly unseated the white supremacist Rep. Steve King in 2018, and Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, an African American Bernie Sanders supporter who’s viewed as a rising force in the party. Scholten wound up running against King again. When Walker decided to stay out of a “primary orchestrated by Washington elites,” as he put it, he was brutally honest about his reasons. “I don’t have the privilege of challenging institutional forces on this scale without incurring significant damage to my political career,” he said, “and at the end of the day, this fear won out over my courage and I’m not proud about that.”

The Iowa seat, it’s worth noting, almost surely wouldn’t be in Republican hands if the DSCC hadn’t given an early, field-clearing endorsement in 2014 to famously haughty Rep. Bruce Braley after longtime Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin retired. Soon after receiving Schumer’s blessing, Braley made headlines complaining about the shortage of locker-room attendants in the Senate gym during a government shutdown; worse, he was caught on tape poking fun at the idea that popular Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, a mere “farmer” without a law degree, might soon be chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee. Farmers, a large contingent in Iowa, took notice; Braley lost handily.

It wasn’t the first or last time the DSCC’s strategy left it to ride or die with a candidate who proved inept or downright offensive. In 2016, with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey looking like a sure loser in Pennsylvania to populist Democrat Joe Sestak, Schumer recruited Katie McGinty, who’d run for election exactly once and won 8 percent in a primary. Sestak had infuriated the DSCC by challenging and beating Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter in a 2010 primary, and he had to pay the price. McGinty, propelled into the general election by $5 million in DSCC spending against Sestak, became a laughingstock for her wooden public presence and a pariah for her deep ties to oil and gas companies. She lost a race that set spending records on both sides.

Even when Schumer’s recruits win general elections, the upshot for Democrats can be problematic. His great success story of 2018, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, votes regularly with Republicans on judicial nominees, backed Attorney General Bill Barr’s confirmation, opposes net neutrality, and was ranked—by one nonpartisan vote-tracking group—as more conservative in 2019 than Mitch McConnell. The Arizona Democratic Party threatened to censure her last year for “failing to support the tenets of the 2016 Democratic Party platform.”

In newly competitive Kansas, where GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is retiring, the early DSCC nod went to longtime Republican state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who’d switched parties only one year before. In Maine, where Sen. Susan Collins’s serial capitulations to President Trump have wrecked her reputation for independence in a state that’s been trending blue, a potentially lively Democratic primary was squelched in May, when the DSCC endorsed state House Speaker Sara Gideon. “They didn’t just get in putting their thumb on the scale,” marveled progressive activist Betsy Sweet, who stayed in the race while other contenders dropped away, but struggled to raise money and find campaign vendors. “It was like the full body.” Collins, Sweet noted, has beaten Schumer picks in the past, partly because of the way the DSCC dictates they run campaigns. “What I see Chuck Schumer trying to do for all these candidates is to package them like a cookie. Their formula is to raise a lot of money and [run] a lot of negative ads, and you win.”

When the party committees weigh in, they’re signaling where other Democratic donors should invest as well—and which candidates they shouldn’t bother with.

If anyone doubted her assessment, Schumer’s interventions in North Carolina provided ample proof. First-term senator Thom Tillis is considered one of the most beatable Republicans in the country. After trying and failing to recruit a series of candidates last year, Schumer landed on moderate military veteran Cal Cunningham, a one-term state legislator in the early ’00s who lost the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2010, despite a DSCC endorsement, and hasn’t run for office since. The DSCC was determined to block state Sen. Erica Smith, who’d been running a progressive campaign from the start. “Sen. Schumer, for whatever reason, did not want an African American running for Senate in North Carolina,” Smith said. Just before they tapped Cunningham, Smith claimed that party leaders had told her, “unequivocally that they were not, had not, did not intend to endorse in the primary.” Smith stayed in, defiant but drastically outspent.

Toward the end of the campaign, a mysterious PAC—its funding later traced to the Republican Senate Leadership Fund—spent more than $2 million on dirty-trick ads touting Smith as the “true progressive” in the race and criticizing Cunningham’s stances on LGBT rights and climate change. But PACs supporting Cunningham, which put $7 million behind him, simply ramped up their spending in response. Cunningham won 57-35 on Super Tuesday.

Schumer’s quest for a non-Smith candidate in North Carolina produced the most embarrassing, and revealing, glimpse yet into the DSCC’s criteria for selecting the “strongest” candidates. Jeff Jackson, a 37-year-old National Guardsman who’s crusaded against Republican voter suppression and gerrymandering in the state Senate, met with Schumer early in 2019 to discuss his own possible candidacy. In September, long after he’d decided not to run, Jackson revealed why in a talk at UNC Charlotte. Jackson, all gung ho, said he’d outlined his plans for the campaign, telling Schumer he wanted to start with “100 town halls in 100 days” across the state.

Schumer responded brusquely, Jackson reported. “Wrong answer … We want you to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money, and then we’re going to spend 80 percent of it on negative ads about Tillis.”

Democracy in action.

EARLY LAST YEAR, as he laid the groundwork for a Senate campaign in Colorado, Andrew Romanoff got a call from the DSCC. “They said Sen. Schumer would like to meet with you, see what you’re putting together, see if we can recommend any consultants,” he recalls. The outreach was a bit surprising. A decade before, Romanoff, who’d been the youngest House Speaker in state history, had gotten crosswise with the Washington establishment when he’d mounted an unsuccessful progressive challenge to Michael Bennet, who’d been appointed to the Senate in 2009 when Ken Salazar became President Obama’s secretary of the interior.

Back then, Romanoff admits, his support for single-payer health care, radical environmental reforms to combat climate change, and same-sex marriage were a few election cycles ahead of their time in Colorado. Ten years later, as he tried to mount his political comeback, those views had become mainstream—so much so that at least a half-dozen other potentially viable progressives, including two women who’d also been state House Speakers, were planning to run for the chance to unseat unpopular first-term Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. But hey, Romanoff thought: Maybe his old foes at the DSCC would give him a leg up this time.

“It turned out that it was all a ruse,” Romanoff says. “Sen. Schumer made it clear to me that he was going to recruit Hick”—former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was then running a hopeless campaign for president from the right, likening Bernie Sanders to Marx and Stalin—“into the race. They were very naked about this. They didn’t want to see a primary; they didn’t want Democrats to fight each other. And they didn’t seem terribly concerned that Hick had said publicly, more than once, that he’d be a terrible senator and didn’t want the job.”

Since the mid-2000s, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Harry Reid, the notion that voters should choose their own nominees has become an anachronism.

Romanoff was undaunted by Schumer’s kiss-off. “If Washington were a town known for its good judgment,” he says, “I might have been more inclined to defer.” But Schumer wasn’t blowing smoke. In late August, a week after Hickenlooper put a merciful end to his presidential bid, he released a video declaring that he’d changed his mind about running for Senate. “I’ve always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done,” Hickenlooper said. “But this is no time to walk away from the table.”

Huzzah! The DSCC endorsed him two days later.

Colorado Democrats were dumbfounded and furious. The move was especially mystifying, as candidate Trish Zornio noted, because “any Democrat running against Cory Gardner is slated to win. It’s a wonderful thing: A potted plant would probably win in November.” Six of the women running in the primary fired off a public letter to Schumer and Cortez Masto, demanding that the DSCC “reconsider its early endorsement” of Hickenlooper and accusing the party of gross gender bias. “Those of us who have run for office before have been told to ‘wait our turn’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ more times than we care to mention,” they wrote. “Now the DSCC, by its endorsement, is implying that we should defer to a male candidate because you seem to believe he is ‘more electable.’”

This wasn’t just sexist, they said, but a recipe for losing a Senate seat that should be a gimme. Hickenlooper’s popularity had waned during his two terms as governor, as he fought against legalizing marijuana, sued two towns that tried to ban fracking, and quintupled oil and gas production in the state, earning him the nickname “Frackenlooper.” His reactionary presidential campaign hadn’t burnished his image. “We would hate to see Colorado as another state that could not take back the U.S. Senate because of poor candidate selection by the DSCC,” the women wrote, referring to Schumer’s habit of wooing older white men out of retirement to run and lose—including former governors Ted Strickland of Ohio (2016) and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee (2018), and former senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska (2012) and Evan Bayh of Indiana (2016). They all looked strong in early polling. And they all lost by double digits in November.

Before long, as money poured in for Hickenlooper and dried up for the others, fury gave way to resignation for most of the hopefuls. By the end of November, five of the letter writers had dropped out, along with former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Obama-era Ambassador Dan Baer, the lone openly gay contender. But the resentments remained fresh, especially as Hickenlooper followed the DSCC’s “windowless basement” formula and skipped 19 of 20 candidate forums and debates between September and March. On March 7, Romanoff—the strongest progressive left standing (“I’m either stubborn or slow to take a hint”)—beat Hickenlooper in the state’s Democratic caucuses, the first step in Colorado’s long and convoluted process of choosing a nominee.

Hickenlooper remains the favorite to prevail in the June 30 primary, with a large lead in the polls and millions to spend. But the DSCC’s heavy-handed intervention on his behalf won’t soon be forgotten. If early endorsements are supposed to foster unity and quell bitter divisions in the Democratic ranks, this one backfired spectacularly.

So did Schumer’s even more unaccountable maneuvering in Texas, where demographic trends finally began to translate into Democratic votes in 2018. Rep. Joaquin Castro was expected to head up a big, impressively diverse field of Democrats hoping to topple Sen. John Cornyn, a powerful Mitch McConnell lieutenant in Washington who’s a faint presence back home. Even if Castro opted out, the contenders would include the most powerful African American in the state capital, Sen. Royce West of Dallas, and the dynamic organizer of the Jolt Initiative that’s registered hundreds of thousands of young Latino voters, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez. No matter who won, the top of the Democratic ticket in Texas was going to look like the future. Until Schumer stepped in.

In December, before Castro made up his mind, the DSCC threw its weight behind the most conservative white candidate in the mix, M.J. Hegar. A female Air Force pilot and Purple Heart recipient in Afghanistan, Hegar had come close to knocking off a House Republican in the suburbs of Austin in 2018, largely on the strength of a viral campaign video, “Doors,” which memorably highlighted the personal and professional obstacles she’d overcome. She’s an appealing character—a motorcycle-riding mom with tattoos and a knack for cornpone putdowns (she loves to call Cornyn “cupcake”)—with the kind of mushy ideology that might have made her a strong candidate in the Texas of the 1980s or ’90s. Back then, Democrats needed to woo white voters back into the fold to win. Today, they can only win with record turnout from the nonwhite majority.

Even Texas Democratic Party officials were left stunned by the endorsement. Castro soon decided to keep his House seat and wait for another day to run statewide, but the others stayed in. West and Ramirez both ran against the DSCC, which he accused of “trying to block African Americans out of the process.” Ramirez spoke openly of her discussions with the national party: “I let them know that if they did endorse her, I would hate for it to backfire on her in the general election with voters of color who already felt underrepresented and ignored.” On Super Tuesday, Hegar led the field, but with only 22 percent of the vote—an anemic showing for a candidate who spent $3 million, with an additional $3.5 million boost from VoteVets Action Fund, a dark-money group that backs Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. West, who spent less than $1 million, narrowly edged Ramirez for a spot in a May 22 runoff.

If Hegar makes it to the general election, it’ll cost millions more to get there. So much for the Schumer strategy of avoiding expensive and divisive primaries. There was no guarantee that Castro, West, or Ramirez would have beaten Cornyn in November if they emerged from a fair and unmediated primary, of course. But Texas Democrats would have had a candidate who looked like Texas circa 2020, rather than an echo of the good ol’ past.

But the past is never past, it seems, when Chuck Schumer and his brain trust play God in Democratic primaries.

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