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Every election season activists have the same debates: to primary or not to primary? Risk-averse campaign professionals wince at the thought of primaries to any sitting Democratic members of Congress, while ideological activists and party interest groups are more enthusiastic about challenging errant Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats.

These debates unfortunately remain one of the last redoubts of hazy gut-based analysis and decision-making in politics, but that’s all about to change. Primary Colors will bring a Moneyball approach to this guessing game, and help progressive activists target their resources on the lowest-value members in the lowest-risk districts.

How our Scoring System Works

Our new scoring system, launching in just a few weeks, will assign each Democratic member of Congress a primary score between 0 and 10. The higher the score, the more deserving of a primary challenge. Check out the worst-of-the-worst now at our just-launched teaser site, and sit tight for much more on our full site along with an interactive map and the three other scores that comprise the primary score dropping later this summer.

We arrive at these primary scores through a two-step process: First, by weighting and averaging various partisan scores like DW-Nominate, Progressive Punch, and National Journal, we get a very clear picture of each member’s voting habits. Then we compare that value to other members representing similar districts in the current Congress. This is crucial, since members aren’t being judged against some woolly progressive ideal. A Democrat representing a district with a D+4 partisan lean is compared to other Democrats in D+4 districts — and the more conservative they are than those colleagues, the higher their primary score. This, along with the rest of our methodology, creates an algorithm which allows activists to find out where they can replace Democrats too conservative for their state or district with real progressives — with little to no fear of losing to said seat to Republicans.

How Primary Colors Will Help Democratic Activists

These scores will be updated on a weekly basis in response to new votes in Congress, and PC’s daily blog will keep you up to date on movements in our numbers, and take a closer look at some of the targeted members and their districts. We’ll also be rolling out a suite of tools for activists to draft primary challengers in targeted districts, sign up to volunteer for campaigns, and donate money to challengers.

Check out our teaser site and sign up to see the 58 Democrats who are delivering the lowest value for progressives. And stay tuned for the full Primary Colors site, dropping at the end of the summer!

In the meantime, we'll be happy to answer any questions you have if you want to shoot us an email or hit us up on Twitter.


Which of These Conservative Democrats Most Deserves a Primary in 2014?

22%10 votes
9%4 votes
4%2 votes
2%1 votes
4%2 votes
15%7 votes
6%3 votes
6%3 votes
6%3 votes
15%7 votes
2%1 votes
2%1 votes

| 44 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Missing a poll choice (7+ / 0-)

    All of the above. I believe that everyone should be subject to a primary. Democracy works on choices. Nobody should be immune to a primary, ever.

  •  Thanks for doing this (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, Odysseus, HeyMikey, rylock

    My feeling always has been that we should take what we can get from some states like Kentucky but in the bluer areas there is no reason why our elected representative shouldn't vote in a way that is in line with the district.  

    I think by shining a spotlight on this issue you may encourage some of the more conservative dems in more progressive districts to vote their districts.  

  •  I'd love to (6+ / 0-)

    I'd love to know more, but I hate hate hate hate hate hate (can you tell I don't like) to sign up for sites, especially when I don't know anything much about the group is advertising them.  I don't want to end up on yet more moneybegging mailing lists, thank you.

    Guess I'll just have to wait, and if I wait too long I will have forgotten about you.  Sorry, them's the breaks.

    •  Suggestion to diarist: start a DKos group. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rylock, Nina Katarina

      That way we can follow the DKos group without getting a lot of email spam.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:17:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  a little information can be a dangerous thing (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    willyr, FG, OnlyWords, HeyMikey

    I don't know anything about most of these Democrats but Maffei is one district over from me and I am reasonably well informed about his congressional electoral history . He was a new congressman in 2008 and managed to win his way back into the House in 2012 after losing the 2010 election by a few hundred votes to Mary Ann Buerkle. (maybe spelled incorrectly) Outside money had something to do with his loss, but there were teaparty votes out there to get. And Buerkle was orders of magnitude worse than Maffei could ever ever be. Check HER voting record. Just no doubt whatsoever.

    My point is that you need to get pretty far into the weeds before you actually know how a primary will impact the final outcome of the seat election in November.

    •  Obviously Republicans are Worse than Democrats... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I think you mean Ann Marie Buerkle -- and she got swept in during the tea-party wave of 2010. Maffei is in a fairly safe D+5 district and has no excuse for voting against progressives as much as he does. I don't know if you quite understood that the main point of this site is to target Democrats who vote too conservative for their districts in safer D+ areas, so that they can be targeted for a primary with little to no fear of losing the seat to a Republican.

    •  Agreed about Maffei (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OnlyWords, HeyMikey

      I've lived in that district---and it has regularly elected far right Republicans like Buerkle and conservative Republicans like Jim Walsh (the longtime incumbent who lost to Maffei in a very close vote in '08), as well as Walsh's conservative Republican predecessor George Wortley.

      Maffei is a pretty mainstream Democrat, and one who can get re-elected. He's not as progressive as I'd like, but he sure beats the heck out of the Buerkles and Walshes, who voters will likely choose if they run against anyone remotely like me.

      There are plenty of Dems on the above list (and others) who would be better candidates for a primary challenge from the left---and ones that would end up with a chance of election.

      Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

      by willyr on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 07:33:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sanford Bishop? Really? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chas 981, SoCalLiberal

    I'm only moderately informed on Bishop. I know he's conservative for a Dem, but I also know he's a black man representing a majority-white, rural Georgia district. I am surprised to hear that the district is more liberal than he is. Really? Could a more progressive Dem really keep this seat out of GOP hands?

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:20:18 AM PDT

  •  I'm in David Scott's district. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Scott is in the top 8 on the teaser site.

    His district is essentially tailored to include most of the African-American folks in the Atlanta suburbs. It does look like the district is pretty safe for the Dems:

    In addition to being relatively conservative for the district, Scott in 2007 was named to CREW's list of the most corrupt members of Congress:

    I happen to know Ga. state representative David Wilkerson, who might make a good replacement for Scott: (Not to be confused with the deceased conservative evangelist of the same name.) I have forwarded the link to the teaser site to David. We'll see what we see.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:31:51 AM PDT

  •  GREAT to see focus on primaries! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would LOVE to see more progressive primary challenges to Blue Dogs. The Dems cannot win back Congress by being GOP Lite. A more progressive Dem party would be both good politics and good policy.

    An excessively conservative Dem party is a self-perpetuating failure because it reinforces "learned helplessness" in the electorate. We need to break that cycle.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:39:48 AM PDT

  •  Bustos (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Her district is D +7 and was represented for over 25 years by Lane Evans who was one of the founding members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

    She is ranked 187th out of 202 House Democrats according to Progressive Punch. Howie Klein at "DownwithTyranny has named her one of the "Ten worst freshmen" in Congress.  She has voted to cut  food stamps while allowing uncapped subsidies to wealthy farmers and crop insurers.

    She voted for CIPSA and would have voted against the Amash amendment but was in Galesburg for the President's speech.

    She voted to approve the Keystone pipeline.  She votes with Big Oil every time.  She has voted against every financial and environmental regulation that has been called in the House.  She crossed the aisle to voted with republicans to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act.   Besides doing whatever Steve Israel of the DCCC asks, she was named a No Labels Congressional Problem Solver within days of being inaugurated.

    Lastly, as a Democrat who campaigned to protect Social Security and Medicare, she refuses to sign the Grayson-Takano "No Cuts Letter."

    "The working class mind is strange and unpredictable" -- Ty Lookwell

    by Illinibeatle on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 09:10:56 AM PDT

  •  I saw some of the teaser members (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And um, I really disagree with some of these choices.  And I consider myself a proud progressive/liberal.  

    First of all, I noticed the likes of Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) listed on there under the "Could be Primaried" list.  That's a MAJOR no-no with me.  They are the Democratic Millenials in Congress and both are not only outstanding young members of Congress, highly intelligent, future leaders of our party, but both are quite progressive/liberal.  Why you would want to go after either one of them is BEYOND me.  I mean, who's next?  Henry Waxman?  And as a Millenial myself who's finally glad to have some generational representation in Congress, I have a MAJOR problem with any organization that wants to go after Dem Millenials.  Especially an organization purporting itself to be progressive.  

    Next, I saw Raul Ruiz (D-CA) on the list.  REALLY?  Here's a guy who NO ONE gave any chance of winning.  He had never run for any political office before and he ran in a district that was written off to the Republicans against a seemingly well-liked and well-entrenched incumbent who while pretending to be moderate (and maybe is in her personal, private life) was very conservative.  He was outraised, he had no party infrastructure behind him, and at the end of the campaign, Karl Rove came in to blast.  Against all the odds and all the predictions, he won.  He won going away.  And in Congress, although he hasn't voted 100% the way I would have voted (and really, who does?), he's had a pretty solid voting record and has been a generally dependable Democratic vote.  And in 2014, he's going to have a tough reelection race because we know that voter turnout is different in midterms and he's going to get challenged by the GOP.  You're thinking of challenging this guy?  Maybe make it easier for the GOP to take back the seat?  Puh-leeze!  

    Moreover, Ruiz is someone who is the all-American story.  This guy is the son of dirt poor farmworkers and grew up in impoverished Coachella.  Yet, with some community support, he got himself into Harvard and ultimately was able to go to medical school at Harvard.  And when he got done becoming a doctor, he went back to his community.  He stands for EVERYTHING we want our country to look like and EVERYTHING that liberals/progressives stand for.  Having him in the Democratic Party, in our Democratic Congressional Caucus helps make our party look better and makes our messaging stronger.  

    And in that regard, you've got Tammy Duckworth on this list?  REALLY?  She's someone who I'm happy is a Democrat and represents the values of the Democratic Caucus extremely well.  I can't believe you would put her on a potential chopping block.  

    Next, you've got Julia Brownley and Scott Peters on the list.  Look, those members are both in districts that were once Republican and are very swingy.  They can't have a Maxine Waters like voting record because their districts don't support that.  They're going to be heavily targeted in 2014 by the GOP and we don't need to be challenging them to make it easier for the GOP.  

    Next, you've got Kyrsten Sinema, and Sean Maloney on there.  Both are in tough districts that will need to be defended strongly in the midterms.  We don't need to challenge either one.  Also, I'd like to point out the following.  Sinema, who's a brilliant lawyer, is the first openly bisexual member of Congress and the only atheist (though the fact that she's also a vegetarian in addition is probably the hardest barrier for her in Arizona).  Maloney is the first openly gay Congressmember elected in New York.  His election was truly an upset, it was not expected in his conservative leaning district.  In fact, he is the first openly gay candidate elected to Congress to defeat an incumbent.  Putting both Maloney and Sinema on the list is not something that any LGBT Democrats should favor.  

    I don't believe that incumbent Democrats should be immune to primary challenge but generally we should avoid it.  It should only be done in the following circumstances:

    1.  You have an incumbent who is extraordinarily incompetent and refuses to do their job.  

    2.  You have an incumbent who is corrupt.  

    3.  You have an incumbent who truly no longer represents their district and might as well be a Republican (think former rep Matthew Martinez for example).  

    4.  Some combination of the prior three.  

    Check out my new blog:

    by SoCalLiberal on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 04:47:31 PM PDT

    •  Partially Understandable! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Don't know how much you read about what we're doing -- but, at least in our teaser version, we have no personal commentary on any of these targets. It's all done by the first draft of our new algorithm. Personally, we were surprised by a few of them also -- but after digging into their votes to make sure the math wasn't off, we were more surprised at how badly some of these members voted on key issues.

      With that being said, I say 'first draft' of the algorithm, because that's part of the reason why we wanted to release the teaser before the full-site: So we could get helpful feedback and tweak the scores where we can to make the scoring system helpful, fair, and easy.

      In a simplified version, the "Primary Scores" are found by compiling many different progressive/partisan scoring mechanisms and running each of the MOCs overall 'progressive score' against Democratic members in similar districts. When they vote significantly less progressive than their colleagues, it raises their primary score, faster if it's a D+ district and much slower if it's an R+ district.

      Even if we just focus on Progressive Punch (mainly because it's laid out the easiest), you might agree that some of the people you listed above aren't quite as progressive as you originally thought when you look vote-by-vote: like Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA).

      As for LGBT issues, obviously the algorithm has no idea the member of congress's sexual orientation. I obviously 100% agree that we need more women and LGBT leaders in office -- but the plain facts are that Maloney, and to a much lesser extent Sinema, are voting way more conservative than even their split districts -- which again, the algorithm gives additional slack to because it's not heavily Democratic. So if they're still on this list after all the extra slack we've given, we're saying that it might be worth the risk.

      And just to comment on your joke, Henry Waxman would not be next, because he's currently voting +10.6 more progressive than we'd expect from his D+11 district.

      Also, I think it's a mistake to believe that a different candidate than the incumbent is inherently going to do worse against Republicans. Sure, a progressive in an R+7 isn't going to do as well as a moderate -- but we feel our scores account well for that. But in EVEN districts or D+1/R+1, you could easily make the argument that progressive or Democratic enthusiasm could trump moderate voter appeal. Our scores are meant to encompass the fact that this person could be voting more progressive and stay in office, but they're voting so poorly that it might be worth the risk with a very qualified candidate.

      Finally, please also take note that in no way is everybody on our list created equal. It's meant to break down who is the most out of step with their district and therefore could need a primary challenge. You bring up a lot of people floating around the '3' range -- which means they aren't doing very well for their district, but they're not doing horribly. Somebody with a 10 is very different than somebody with a 2 or a 3. Especially with new members of congress, we'd hope to help primary the top-offenders and use the scores to let the folks on the bottom of our list that a behavior change would get them off -- and, based on their colleagues, they wouldn't be voting any more progressive than others like them.

      Thanks for checking it out, though! Like I said, we have no problems at all with tweaking our algorithm as we go to make it as fair as possible. We obviously won't have put up the teaser if we didn't think it already represented our research about these candidates -- but we will obviously never shy away from making it even better. So keep letting us know what you think! Thanks again.

      •  Yeah, I researched the Progressive Punch thing (0+ / 0-)

        for Swalwell and I find it ridiculous.  On just about every single category, he's being dragged down by a single No vote on March 20th against an amendment by the House Progressive Caucus to scrap the entire GOP budget.  And that seems to be a key vote in measuring all sorts of different issue areas including civil rights, education, and war and peace.  And as for that single amendment, it had little chance of passing and was overwhelmingly defeated.  I'm sorry but you cannot take one vote on a single amendment and use that to judge whether someone is really as progressive (as they ironically don't claim to be).  

        In any case, if all these people winding up on your list surprise you, perhaps you need to change your algorithm.  

        Look, I know that Nate Silver's luck in predicting the election has transformed everyone into this math/data analysis overdrive mode.  But politics is more than just an algorithm.  Evaluations need to be done wholistically.  And creating this weird algorithm based upon a faulty score and using that to go after Democrats (good young leaders, minorities who have won in majority white electorates, LGBT members) and go after Democrats who won incredibly tough races and are needed is a really bad idea.  I don't know how else to stress this.  

        Check out my new blog:

        by SoCalLiberal on Tue Jul 30, 2013 at 11:34:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I Think We Disagree on the Premise (0+ / 0-)

          But I think you're getting what we're doing confused with a Club-for-Growth-from-the-left-type organization that's going to put tons of money into running any conservative Democrats out of office -- which is definitely not the case.

          We are unabashedly pro-primary in most cases, because voters undoubtably deserve a choice in who is representing them. And most of the arguments against primaries (party division, loss of moderate appeal, etc.) have at least equally relevant pro-primary arguments (stronger candidates, Democratic enthusiasm, etc.).

          With that being said, people could make an argument that this site (especially once the full site is released) is protecting moderate Democrats in more conservative districts just as it's advocating for more conservative Democrats in progressive districts to be challenged.

          Also, I said that some of the members on here were little surprising to us until we started digging into the votes more and saw things they voted against that they really shouldn't be based on their district lean.

          In Swalwell's case, being in a D+16 gives him little reason to vote against the House Progressive Budget. We're much more understanding of somebody in a less liberal district voting against it, but there is virtually no chance of a Republican ever taking CA-15. Plus, like I said before, he's not being measured as a progressive based on some ideal in our minds, we're just pegging him against his Democratic colleagues in similar districts, and he's simply voting less progressive than they are --- and we think that's a very fair metric.

          To expand on Swalwell with two additional points: (1) We average scores beyond just Progressive Punch to prevent exactly what you're talking about. We use PP as a base because they're the only scoring system out there with a clear-cut method of measuring progressive votes against party-line votes, but we give members slack that vote with the party as well. And (2) Swalwell is still new. He has fewer votes to base his score on than other members, so his score is almost more about following his trajectory at this point. Right now, he has room to vote more liberal. Since he has no votes beyond this congress, our score allows him to move around a bit faster than the others. When new votes are loaded and we update our site each week, you could see him drop to a '2' or off the list completely if he votes how you'd expect a representative in a D+16 to vote.

          I think the only thing we actually disagree on -- though I'm always open to think differently! -- is whether or not we should give member's more slack for being LGBT, millennials, or women. We badly need more of all three in congress, but I haven't been convinced that they should be allowed to vote against their constituents interests because of their personal qualities.

          And we are always up for tweaking our algorithm! The more insight on it, the better!

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