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BAD BLUES: Some of the House Democrats Who Deserve to Be 'Primaried'

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KURT SCHRADER (OR-5)

Since getting to Congress a decade ago, "moderate" Democrat Kurt Schrader has defeated Republican opponents by comfortable margins that grew to double digits. As for primary challenges, the closest one fell short by more than 40 percent. But 2020 could be quite different. Schrader's slightly blue district -- which includes much of the Willamette Valley and the Oregon coast -- will see a primary contest pitting the incumbent against a self-described progressive with an electoral toehold on the southern outskirts of Portland.

Mark Gamba, now in his fifth year as the mayor of Milwaukee (pop. 20,000), is running to replace Schrader. "He likes to pretend that he's reaching across the aisle to get things done," Gamba told us, "but it almost always goes back to the corporations that back him financially." Schrader, a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition, gets a lot of money from corporate interests, including from the Koch Industries PAC . Last year, only one House Democrat was ranked higher on "key issues" by the US Chamber of Commerce. During 2017 and 2018, one-third of Schrader's House votes were aligned with Trump. And like Trump, he's not a defender of young Dreamers who have grown up undocumented in this country; he was one of a few dozen House Democrats to oppose the 2010 Dream Act.

Gamba intends to make climate a central issue of the campaign to unseat Schrader -- who, he says, "has been notably absent on any substantive climate policy." A professional photographer who often went on assignment for National Geographic, Gamba advocates for "a Green New Deal or some other powerful response to climate change which is broad-reaching, deep and meaningful." (Only four House Democrats have a lower lifetime environmental score than Schrader.) Gamba also supports Medicare for All, while his opponent "is quietly but actively opposing Medicare for All or any law that actually cuts into the profits of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries."

Some of Gamba's other campaign priorities include "beginning to rectify the vast and growing income inequity by increasing the taxes on the rich including capital gains; protecting the unions which have been slowly and purposefully eroded; beginning to slow the spending on the military-industrial complex; dramatically increase funding for education: pre-K through college." If all that sounds like a certain political revolution, it's no coincidence. "I endorsed and campaigned for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary," Gamba recalls. In that primary, Sanders came out well ahead of Clinton in the district Gamba hopes to represent in Congress.

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DAVID SCOTT (GA-13)

After sixteen years as one of the most conservative African-American Democrats in Congress, David Scott is facing a primary fight in a deep blue district that includes southwest Atlanta and neighboring suburbs, where Clinton beat Trump by nearly 3-to-1. The challenge is coming from a former chair of the Democratic Party in populous Cobb County, Michael Owens, who launched his uphill campaign in May while signaling that he'll make Scott's big-business entanglements a central issue in the race.

"Owens said Scott, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, has gotten too cozy with the payday lending industry and other corporate interests," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. "He singled out Scott's vote last year in favor of rolling back portions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul." During the last election cycle, Scott's campaign and PAC raised $318,750 from securities, investment and commercial-banking interests. Just seven Democrats in Congress earned a higher ranking last year from the corporatist US Chamber of Commerce, which placed Scott above almost 100 Republicans.

Seeking to oust the incumbent in a district that is 70 percent people of color, the Owens campaign aims to bring political issues home. Says Owens: "I want to make sure that we stop allowing and supporting policies that are directly attacking our black and brown communities."

A member of both corporate-allied caucuses of Democrats -- the Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions -- Scott is fond of reaching across the aisle, to the point of publicly backing GOP incumbents for re-election. He has sided with Republicans on some key issues. Scott supported the Keystone XL pipeline, and more recently voted against environmental protection on clean water standards, nuclear storage and pesticides pollution. Only 18 Democrats in the House have a lower lifetime environmental score.

Scott's approach to foreign policy tends to be hawkish. He opposed the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, and last December he was one of just five House Democrats to vote for continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and supporting the Saudi war on Yemen.

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JUAN VARGAS (CA-51)

Juan Vargas represents an overwhelmingly Latino and Democratic district (where Clinton beat Trump by a 50-point margin) that includes California's entire US-Mexico border. Since being elected to the House in 2012, he has become known for one pet issue, far from uppermost in the minds of his largely working-class constituents: defending Israel no matter what.

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Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon (more...)
 
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