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The DCCC’s scorched-earth campaign against Texas Democrat Laura Moser backfired

Moser made it into a May runoff election.

Democratic congressional candidate Laura Moser campaigns in Houston ahead of the March 6 primary.
Michael Stravato/For the Washington Post/Getty

Until a few weeks ago, Laura Moser was a little-known name, one of seven candidates running for the Democratic primary in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District.

That was, until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unleashed a scorched-earth campaign against the former freelance journalist and progressive activist, releasing an opposition memo highlighting past statements Moser made seemingly denigrating her home state.

The move may have helped propel Moser across the finish line in the first round of the primary and into a May runoff election, along with Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who was endorsed by the pro-female candidate Super PAC Emily’s List.

By trying to finish off Moser early, the DCCC ended up elevating her national profile and opened up an intraparty rift in the process, galvanizing progressive groups that came out supporting her.

At least one left-leaning group, the Working Families Party, is already taking aim at Fletcher. It spent more than $20,000 on ads against the attorney leading up to the race, and plans to spend more in the runoff, according to WFP spokesperson Joe Dinkin.

The DCCC took its first shot at Moser in late February, publishing an opposition research memo against her on its website.

“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” the memo said. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress. In fact, she wrote in the Washingtonian magazine, ‘I’d rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia’ than live in Texas.” (Moser, in fact, was referring to moving back to her grandparents’ home in the town of Paris, Texas — not the entire state).

The memo release was an unusual move for the DCCC, which usually stays out of Democratic primaries. It even earned them a rebuke from Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” he said in a Sunday interview on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers. “We’re at our best as Democrats when we talk about the issues. … I don’t believe we should be anointing candidates. The people in Texas are the people who should be making the choices in Texas.”

Moser, the founder of the activist text messaging platform Daily Action, is one of seven Democratic candidates in the running for Congress in Texas’s Seventh District, which lies in the suburbs of Houston. The top two winners will head to a runoff election, and the winner of that race will ultimately compete against incumbent Republican Rep. John Culberson in November.

Why the DCCC released the memo

The campaign arm for House Democrats could have released the oppo research quietly, but the fact that they did it so openly showed how invested they are in this Texas House race — and the lengths they were willing to go to achieve their desired result.

The DCCC desperately wants to flip the Seventh Congressional District, currently held by Culberson, a Republican. Though the Seventh District has been held by the GOP since the 1960s, it was one of three districts whose residents voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (the other two are the 23rd Congressional District and the 32nd Congressional District). Democrats are optimistic that they can flip it in November.

The DCCC views Moser as too risky to run against the Republican incumbent in the general election but also recognizes she is someone who has enough of a following and money to possibly get into the runoff. Hence, the release of the memo.

“When there’s a truly disqualified general election candidate that would eliminate our ability to flip a district blue, that’s a time when it becomes necessary to get involved in these primaries,” DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly told Vox. “This district is too important to let it go without trying.”

Even though Moser was a Clinton supporter in 2016, the attack on her by the DCCC became a rallying cry for the left and Bernie Sanders supporters.

Last week, Our Revolution, the progressive group formed after Sanders’s presidential run in 2016, endorsed Moser and blasted the DCCC’s attacks on her in a statement.

“The DCCC’s ridiculous attacks on Laura Moser are why Democrats nationally have lost over 1,100 seats,” said Our Revolution board member Jim Hightower in the statement. “Laura is a rising progressive advocate that the workaday people of Texas desperately need.”

Tonight was the first step for Democrats in Texas. November will be the real test.

The fact that the DCCC released an opposition memo on one of their own is surprising. That they’re doing it in Texas is even more so — and it’s telling about how national Democrats are tempted by a new political movement that’s taking place in the state.

For the first time in decades, Democrats have a real shot at taking back a number of key congressional seats in a state long dominated by Republicans. There are Democratic candidates running in all of the state’s 36 congressional districts for the first time in 25 years, and they’re also fielding competitive candidates for US Senate, the governor’s mansion (to a lesser extent because the incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is popular), and a number of state races.

Democrats know they won’t be competitive in every congressional district, but they have their sights set on the three they believe they have the best shot at winning — the Seventh Congressional District in Houston against Culberson, the 23rd Congressional District outside San Antonio against incumbent Rep. Will Hurd, and the 32nd Congressional District in Dallas against incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions.

Democrats are also fielding candidates in three more Texas congressional districts they see as more of a long shot but still in play: the Second, 21st, and 31st. They need to do two things to pull it off: spur Hispanic and Latino voters to turn out in droves, and peel off white, moderate suburbanites who don’t like Donald Trump (particularly women).

Competing seriously in Texas is still a long shot for Democrats. But the fact that there are fields of seven Democratic candidates lining up to challenge each one is notable in a state where those primary fields were empty just two years ago.

“We’re definitely seeing unbridled enthusiasm among Democrats,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.