If the Democratic National Committee endured a tremendous backlash when the leak of DNC emails revealed they had their thumb on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary race, how do they think activists are going to feel about the national party butting their noses into contested Democratic primaries around the country?
Democrats are not stupid. They know if they run a bunch of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren acolytes it would almost certainly allow the Republicans to keep their House majority. As much noise as Democrats make about the public being in favor of their agenda, running a slew of wild-eyed radical “reformists” would doom their chances in November.
So that national party has taken the unprecedented step of trying to choose winners in many contested Democratic House primaries across the country.
With their forceful intervention in Orange County, national Democrats have lunged into an impatient new phase of the 2018 primary season — one in which they are clashing more openly with candidates and local political chieftains in their drive to assemble a slate of recruits for the midterms.
In districts from Southern California to Little Rock, Ark., and upstate New York, the party has begun interceding to help the Democrats it sees as best equipped to battle Republicans in the fall.
The approach is laced with peril for a party divided over matters of ideology and political strategy, and increasingly dominated by activists who tend to resent what they see as meddling from Washington. A Democratic effort to undercut a liberal insurgent in a Houston-area congressional primary in March stirred an outcry on the left and may have inadvertently helped drive support to that candidate, Laura Moser, who qualified for the runoff election next month.
But in some areas, Democratic leaders have concluded it is worth enduring backlash to help a prized recruit or tame a chaotic primary field.
By “prized recruit” the Times means a candidate best able to hide his or her radicalism and appear moderate to ordinary Americans. They are taking a page out of the Barack Obama playbook, finding candidates who spout reassuring nostrums and use words like “family,” “community,” and, of course, “equality.”
But that just isn’t good enough for much of the base. And it could cost the party dearly:
For Democrats, that project extends beyond California: On the same day the D.C.C.C. endorsed Mr. Cisneros, it also boosted candidates in New York and Arkansas who face contested primaries. In New York, the committee enlisted Juanita Perez Williams, a former candidate for mayor of Syracuse, to challenge Representative John Katko this month, though a lower-profile Democrat was already running with the support of local party leaders.
That kind of big-footing may be trickier in California. Mr. Chen, the Democrat who opted out of the 39th District race, said the party still faces a “precarious situation” there. He said he had decided against running after conducting a poll that showed him neck and neck with Mr. Cisneros and Mr. Thorburn — but with Democratic voters fragmented enough to create an all-Republican general election.
California is a special case because of the so-called “open primaries” where candidates from both parties vie for one of two spots in the general election. If a strong enough Republican or two can emerge from this scrum, a district that would normally go Democratic might flip.
But Republicans simply can’t count on Democrats self-destructing. They must get their own voters to the polls, especially in the still-growing number of districts where a GOP member is retiring or running for higher office. It is these open seats that will almost certainly decide who controls Congress next year.