It's hard not to see the Primary Colors effort as a reaction -- and a smart one -- to what has happened within Republican primaries, particularly in Senate races, over the past two elections. In Delaware, Colorado and Nevada in 2010 and then in Indiana and Missouri in 2012, more conservative candidates won primaries only to lose very winnable general elections against Democrats. In response, a number of establishment GOP types -- including Karl Rove -- formed the Conservative Victory Project in 2013, a super PAC aimed at ensuring the most electable candidates won primaries. The group has not, however, been very active -- raising just $16,000 in the entirety of 2013.
It's very much an open question whether Primary Colors will exert any impact on the Democratic House landscape. (The project is, at the moment, self-funded by Geeting and O'Donnell.) But, for ambitious Democratic candidates looking for a way into Congress or upstart progressive groups trying to make a name by taking down a sitting incumbent, it's a must-bookmark.
We actually had this idea a few weeks before we heard about CVP, and it was like "Karl Rove, get out of our brains!" because this is indeed the best right-wing analog to Primary Colors.
Some people hearing about this idea for the first time have likened it to a left wing Tea Party, and recoiled in horror. After all, the Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party way too far to the right, causing them to lose winnable Senate races as Chris says, and rendering the Party uncompetitive at the Presidential level.
The Conservative Victory Project was formed by Karl Rove as a corrective to this problem. Its mission is to weed out the Todd Akins and Christine O'Donnells in favor of Republican candidates who can actually win general elections.
You should look at CVP as operating at a different stage in the process than Primary Colors, but employing essentially the same theory of change.
CVP's goal is electing the most conservative Republican candidates who can win general elections. In a party that has run too far to the right, that necessarily means backing some more left-leaning Republicans, and that's not going over well with the base.
Progressives don't have that problem. The problem for progressive activists is that politicians systematically overestimate the conservatism of their constituents, and so we get Democrats who vote less progressive than they can safely get away with in their districts.
So part of our strategy is showing some of these Democratic politicians that they actually have permission to vote more progressive, and provide a counter to their inclination to overestimate how conservative their constituents are. They can see to what extent they're actually underperforming relative to colleagues in similar district-leans, and adjust their voting behavior accordingly.
The other part of the strategy is to direct national and local progressive activist attention toward replacement of the lowest-value incumbents in the lowest-risk districts, prioritizing primaries in seats where the risk of losing to Republicans is low.
The first reason for this is practical. We don't want to lose seats to the Republicans! And we do want to prioritize replacement of the members who are delivering the lowest value to progressive causes.
There is also an ideological reason to target the worst safe seat Democrats. We have depressingly few superstar politicians in our safe districts who are interested in pushing out the boundaries of the possible. With more competition in these districts, politicians will be quicker to embrace emerging progressive issues, because they'll have to in order to hang onto their seats. And if there's more turnover, newer ideas will cycle into our politics at a faster clip.
It's the safe seat members who lead the movement by pushing the ideological frontier outward, and pulling the rest of the party along with them. By prioritizing primary wins in safe seats, Primary Colors can push Democratic politics, and American politics, leftward one seat at a time without incurring excessive risk in general elections.