California Primary Election: 'Bad Democrat' Ads Show 2018 Is Getting Very Ugly for Dems

Democrats are fighting fierce intraparty battles this year to put the party in the best position to deliver on its much-anticipated blue wave in November—and they may soon get uglier.

Last week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grassroots organization that funds progressive candidates, launched a $20,000 ad campaign targeting Dave Min, a California House challenger the group dubs a "bad Dem" for opposing Medicare for All. Katie Porter—one of Min's two Democratic opponents in the 45th District and a protégé of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren—is the race's true progressive, according to PCCC. The group sees Min, who's earned the state party's endorsement, as trying to deceptively convince voters otherwise.

"The campaign is partly about truth in labeling and allowing voters to understand the real choice in front of them in the primaries," Adam Green, PCCC's co-founder, told Newsweek. "We'd much prefer someone honestly running as a corporate, conservative Democrat and let voters know that's the vision they would advance if elected. That's not what Min is doing."

While Porter has campaigned on an explicit Medicare for All platform—seen as the hallmark of a progressive campaign this cycle—Min's camp has said that single-payer would result in a "tremendous tax increase." On his website, he says he would advocate for expanding Medicare and "allowing all Americans the option to buy into Medicare or some other public option." His campaign disputes the PCCC's insistence that Min outright opposes Medicare for All.

"The Progressive Change Campaign Committee falsely claims, 'Dave Min opposes Medicare for All' without citing any evidence in online ads," the Min campaign told The Hill. "Dave Min believes health care is a human right and supports many pathways to achieve universal health care coverage. He has never said he opposes Medicare for All."

Min did not respond to Newsweek's requests for comment.

PCCC's ad calls Min a "bad Democrat" and says opposes "#MedicareForAll" style health care coverage, which the group wants every Democrat to embrace. #CA45 @JordanSGraham @cmaiduc

— (@BoldProgressive) June 1, 2018

Min's campaign has also gone on the record to say that he "is not the candidate who is furthest to the left." But that's not going to stop the PCCC from rallying California Democrats in his district against him ahead of Tuesday's primaries, and, eventually, doing the same with other so-called "bad Dems" in key races across the country. Green and his colleagues are already looking forward to zeroing in on Kansas's 3rd Congressional District, where former Bernie Sanders–delegate Brent Welder will face off against six other Democrats, including Mike McCamon, a candidate whose campaign motto is "leading from the center."

But going into her own primary, Porter, a former law professor who studied under Warren, says she doesn't necessarily need to don the label of "most progressive" or "true progressive" to win. Porter believes her experience helping California families during the foreclosure crisis and "standing up to powerful special interests" speaks for itself at the ballot box.

"Labels aren't going to win this election," Porter told Newsweek. "What's important is that you're genuine, authentic and have a track record of saying what you mean, and meaning what you say—when I say I'm going to take on a powerful special interests like the fossil-fuel industry or pharmaceutical industry, voters know I have the track record to actually do it."

The stakes are high in California's 45th, where Min, Porter and their two other primary competitors are vying to unseat Republican incumbent Mimi Walters in a district that went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Democratic Party has been of two minds this cycle when it comes to the question of which candidate is best suited to flipping seats like this one: One faction of the party believes centrist candidates are the secret to winning swing districts, while the other insists the more progressive a candidate is, the better.

The difference in political strategy has already divided the party in states like Illinois, where first-timer Marie Newman fell to a pro-life, anti-Affordable Care Act, anti-Dream Act candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in March, and in Nebraska, where Kara Eastman, another first-time female candidate, conversely dealt a major blow to the DCCC and Democratic establishment when she beat Brad Ashford last month.

Groups like the PCCC are adding fuel to the fire, to be sure. But Democratic strategists say having a hotly contested primary can ultimately help unify a party, and deliver a stronger candidate to a general election. The duel between Min and Porter could pay off in November.

"If Min wins, he's going to be a stronger candidate for the general because he gained enough of an appeal across the party. If Porter wins, then she'll have excited enough voters about where she is, and they'll hopefully turn out for her," Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and a former senior spokesperson for the Hillary Clinton campaign, told Newsweek. "This is exactly what should happen in a primary."