Progressives have made a brand in recent years of not shying away from primary battles, with several of the left-wing’s most high-profile players rising to fame after ousting incumbents.
But now the tables have turned on two members of the so-called progressive “squad”—as centrist challengers emerge to try and take their seat in the Aug. 2 primaries.
Reps. Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Cori Bush (MO) are both early career members of Congress, being elected in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Tlaib won her seat by challenging short-term Rep. Brenda Jones(D-MI), who’d won a special election following the retirement of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) earlier that year, and Bush won her seat in Congress after two primary bids against incumbent Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who she bested by just over three points in the district’s 2020 primary.
And since joining Democrats on the Hill, both of the congresswomen have become stalwarts for the progressive movement. But in doing so, they’ve also become targets of the center-left flank of Democratic politics they’ve worked to retire.
In Missouri, that’s amounted to Bush facing a challenge from state Sen. Steven Roberts (D).
Roberts’ family has been an institution in the St. Louis area for years; with his father being a prominent entrepreneur in the area who now serves on the equity and diversity council at the Federal Communications Commission. The state senator has steadily risen through the ranks of St. Louis politics while serving in the Air National Guard, and he’s branded himself as the more pragmatic alternative to Bush’s progressive approach.
A recent Roberts campaign ad, for instance, highlighted a number of Bush’s congressional votes and pitted Bush as being against Biden’s agenda, before tacking on the line, “She claims to love you. So does your ex.”
Bush has used the tagline, “Your Congresswoman loves you,” in her constituent messaging.
Though Bush has defied party leadership on high-profile votes like the bipartisan infrastructure plan and more security funding for Supreme Court Justices, she has voted in-line with Biden 93 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Outside of her voting record, however, she has been an outspoken critic of the administration’s approach on a number of progressive issues, including defunding the police and canceling student debt.
An internal Roberts poll released in June showed Bush at 36 percent with Roberts trailing at 18 percent, while 45 percent were undecided. Roberts filed for candidacy on March 29.
But beneath the image of a young, aspirational politician Roberts has presented himself to be, there’s some baggage.
Roberts has settled two separate cases alleging sexual misconduct—one involving allegations that he groped a woman at a bar, and the other from a now-deceased state Rep. Cora Faith Walker, who alleged he raped her in 2016. In the groping case, Roberts ultimately paid the plaintiff $100,000, while the second lawsuit with Walker was settled for no monetary value.
Roberts released the details of his settlement with Walker after she passed unexpectedly due to a heart condition earlier this year. The deal required that Walker not speak publicly about the rape allegation or details of the settlement, other than to say that no money was exchanged.
Roberts has denied culpability in both cases.
Walker’s attorney, Alan Mandel, told The Daily Beast he was “troubled by [Roberts] all of a sudden talking about it in public” after Walker’s passing, but that he doesn’t believe there was a breach of contract by Roberts releasing the details.
“Steve has told the truth since day one and chose to not fight any of this in the press, he put his faith in the legal system,” campaign spokesperson Ryan Hawkins told The Daily Beast in a statement.
Nonetheless, Roberts has managed to draw in support, including from former Rep. Clay, who Bush ousted just two years ago. Clay, who’s close with the Roberts family, has filled his social media with support for the challenger’s bid and told the St. Louis Dispatch in April that he thinks conversations about Walker on the campaign trail are “callous” and disrespectful of her memory.
In a request to discuss his support for Roberts, however, Clay replied to The Daily Beast via email, “I am not on the ground in St. Louis and really am not interested in speaking with you.”
Bush’s supporters, meanwhile, argue the congresswoman’s activist-like approach to Washington is why they elected her in the first place, and why they hope to elect her again. “To me, like, there isn’t a race. What race?,” said Rosetta Okohson, CEO of MO Political Consulting.
“There is one clear person who has shown up for the people of St. Louis in the congressional district and in less than two years has been able to do more than we’ve seen in 50 years.”
Further north in Michigan, Tlaib’s facing a much more crowded—and well-funded—competition.
Three challengers have lined up and pitted themselves as the more-moderate option in the race, with Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey emerging as the most competitive of the trio. Her campaign site is peppered with moderate calling cards like “finesse for working across the aisle” and “we need to get along with everyone.” Having served as city clerk for more than a decade, Winfrey also has some name recognition of her own.
A number of outside groups seem to think she has a shot—with the pro-Israel group Urban Empowerment Action announcing last month that it plans to spend $1 million in the district in support of Winfrey and other outside spenders hopping in the race.
And while Tlaib, similar to Bush, votes with the president 94.3% of the time, she has taken some votes against the party line over the years and been willing to call out the president’s inaction on some progressive causes, which some moderates believe has left her vulnerable.
Alongside Bush and four other members of the progressive squad, Tlaib voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year in protest to not passing the Build Back Better Act, which prompted some backlash in her district. Prior to redistricting, Tlaib was facing a primary challenger in Michigan’s 13th district, Shri Thanedar, who launched his campaign just three days after the vote.
Tlaib’s territory was later split when new district lines were drawn and she is now running in the 12th congressional district instead, leading to her matchup with Winfrey and the two other contenders in the race, Mayor of Lathrup Village Kelly Garrett and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson.
“Infrastructure is so important in this particular community, right. And when you don’t support that, I have a problem,” Winfrey told the Michigan Chronicle in January. “Because when you don’t support those critical needs of the community, you don’t support what we’re doing.
But not all of Michigan’s politicos are convinced Tlaib’s challenger’s are up for the task.
Foremost, Tlaib easily defeated Jones in a 2020 primary rematch, even after a high-profile first term in which Tlaib called for former President Trump’s impeachment on her very first day in office and sparred with him after Trump suggested Tlaib and three other liberal congresswomen of color should “go back” to the countries they came from.
Tlaib, who was born in Detroit, is one of the first two Muslim women in Congress and the only Palestianian-American in Congress.
The Detroit Free Pressendorsed Tlaib in the Democratic primary earlier this month, with the paper’s editorial board suggesting that Winfrey “would be out of her depth in the U.S. Congress” and commending Tlaib for her work with constituent services and finding common ground with her colleagues in Congress.
“The new 12th District puts Tlaib in front of voters she’s never had to win over, but she’s one of the finest retail politicians in Michigan,” the editorial board wrote.
Steve Mitchell, who heads Mitchell Research & Communications in Michigan, told The Daily Beast he suspects that the congresswoman’s incumbency and standing among her constituents will comfortably win her re-election.
“If you were a betting person, you’d bet on Rashida Tlaib,” he said.
Mitchell added, too, that the most likely voters to turn out to Democratic primaries tend to be the most liberal, giving Tlaib an advantage compared to a more moderate contender.
“Not to say it can’t be done, but I suspect it’s an uphill battle for the other candidates,” Mitchell added.
Source by www.thedailybeast.com