Democratic Congresswoman Breaks Up With Her Moderate Friends

Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, a gubernatorial candidate, is trying to reestablish her liberal bona fides.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Jan. 23, 2014, 1:17 p.m.

Life is get­ting more dif­fi­cult for Demo­crats cling­ing to the polit­ic­al cen­ter. Rep. Allyson Schwartz ab­ruptly cut ties Thursday with sev­er­al mod­er­ate Demo­crat­ic groups as she runs for gov­ernor in Pennsylvania.

Schwartz’s cam­paign said Thursday that the Phil­adelphia-area con­gress­wo­man would no longer serve as an hon­or­ary chair­wo­man of the cent­rist think-tank Third Way, a group that en­raged lib­er­al act­iv­ists in Decem­ber when its lead­ers wrote a Wall Street Journ­al op-ed cri­ti­ciz­ing the party’s pop­u­list agenda.

Schwartz, who faces a com­pet­it­ive Demo­crat­ic gubernat­ori­al primary, im­me­di­ately came un­der fire from rank-and-file lib­er­als for her as­so­ci­ation with the group, but only this week form­ally sep­ar­ated her­self from it.

Schwartz’s an­nounce­ment em­phas­izes that in ad­di­tion to leav­ing Third Way, she’s also leav­ing her lead­er­ship post with the New Demo­crat Co­ali­tion and her po­s­i­tion on the House Budget Com­mit­tee — an ap­par­ent at­tempt to cut her ties to Wash­ing­ton while her cam­paign heats up in Pennsylvania.

“As the May primary ap­proaches, I had long planned to step aside from oth­er com­mit­ments,” she said in a state­ment.

But a spokes­man for her cam­paign, Mark Berg­man, told Na­tion­al Journal that Third Way’s op-ed “made the de­cision that much easi­er.”

Schwartz’s de­par­ture was first re­por­ted by the lib­er­al blog Daily Kos.

Her de­cision is a re­veal­ing sign about the cur­rent state of Demo­crat­ic Party polit­ics. It’s evid­ence of a grow­ing rift between the party’s base, which is fight­ing for a more ro­bust pro­gress­ive agenda, and some of its more mod­er­ate ele­ments, which want it to emu­late the cent­rist tack taken by former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton. To date, the dis­pute has mani­fes­ted it­self most keenly in the de­bate over pos­sible pres­id­en­tial con­tender Hil­lary Clin­ton, whose close ties to Wall Street have spurred calls for Eliza­beth War­ren to launch her own pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. (The Mas­sachu­setts sen­at­or has said she won’t run.)

Now, the dis­pute ap­pears to be spread­ing. Schwartz is the early front-run­ner in the Key­stone State’s gubernat­ori­al primary. But she faces a hand­ful of qual­i­fied op­pon­ents, all of whom could ex­ploit the per­cep­tion that she isn’t lib­er­al enough for the party’s primary voters.

The Third Way op-ed, which cri­ti­cized lib­er­als who op­pose So­cial Se­cur­ity cuts, im­me­di­ately drew con­dem­na­tion from Schwartz, who called it “out­rageous” and signed onto a bill that would ex­pand the en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram. In form­ally sep­ar­at­ing her­self from the group now, she signaled the grow­ing clout of the party’s lib­er­al base.

Pro­gress­ive groups im­me­di­ately de­clared vic­tory. 

“As a Wall Street front group, Third Way had little cred­ib­il­ity to be­gin with — and that cred­ib­il­ity is nearly nonex­ist­ent now that their own co­chair is dump­ing them,” said Adam Green, cofounder of the Pro­gress­ive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. “Third Way’s at­tack on Eliza­beth War­ren’s eco­nom­ic-pop­u­list agenda, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing So­cial Se­cur­ity be­ne­fits, is something that no smart Demo­crat in the coun­try would em­brace — and Allyson Schwartz de­serves cred­it for mak­ing a smart de­cision.”

Wheth­er the con­gress­wo­man’s de­cision hurts her in a gen­er­al elec­tion re­mains to be seen. Lib­er­al act­iv­ists ar­gue that So­cial Se­cur­ity is an over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar pro­gram, and huge swaths of voters op­pose all cuts to it. But do­ing so can also make a law­maker look be­hold­en to the party’s lib­er­al base, a per­cep­tion that could ali­en­ate middle-of-the road voters.

“Today, Allyson Schwartz proved that she will do whatever it takes to ap­pease her ex­treme lib­er­al base,” said Megan Sweeney, a spokes­wo­man for the Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an Party. “After months of deny­ing it, Allyson Schwartz has fi­nally em­braced her status as a tax-and-spend rad­ic­al lib­er­al. Now she can tout her new taxes and plans for in­creased gov­ern­ment spend­ing without wor­ry­ing about keep­ing up a cent­rist façade.”

A spokes­man for Third Way de­clined to com­ment.

If Schwartz wins the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, she’d face Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Tom Corbett, who is one of the most vul­ner­able gov­ernors up for reelec­tion in 2014.

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