Top Progressives Blame AIPAC, Outside Money For Defeats In Oregon

Two high-profile progressives in Congress suggested that Tuesday’s primary losses by like-minded Democrats in Oregon should be blamed more on money than the U.S. House candidates’ messages.

“We’ve always dealt with the fact that progressives are not fostered and don’t take money from these big corporate lobbies,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday.

“You get Big Pharma that gets involved, you get these corporate Wall Street lobbies that pour in money and you have AIPAC — which is a right-wing insurrectionist-supporting, pro-Netanyahu lobbying organization,” she added, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had a similar analysis of the losses for the left. Among these was older sister Susheela Jayapal’s defeat by Dr. Maxine Dexter, a state representative, in Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, a solid Democratic seat that includes most of Portland.

“She ran a great campaign. But when you have $7 million that comes in in outside spending, the third most expensive outside spending amount in this cycle in the country, it’s pretty tough,” Pramila Jayapal said.

“Clearly, people are afraid of having another Jayapal in Congress,” she joked.

And in the 5th District, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who was the Democratic nominee in 2022 but lost to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) in the general election, came up short against state Rep. Janelle Bynum. McLeod-Skinner, who unseated a centrist in the 2022 primary with progressive help, did not have many endorsements from national progressive groups or elected officials, including Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal or the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Pramila Jayapal noted the CPC did not formally endorse in the 3rd and 5th district primaries. In McLeod-Skinner’s race, she said progressives were not all in because of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s involvement.

Meanwhile, the CPC did not formally endorse in Susheela Jayapal’s race because all three of its candidates “had 100% questionnaires, except for the question of taking corporate PAC money,” she said.

In addition to the congressional contests, Mike Schmidt, the progressive district attorney of Multnomah County, lost his race for a second term to a more moderate challenger, Nathan Vasquez. His loss reflected a backlash to street crime, open-air drug use, and homeless encampments in Portland that already resulted in the rollback of a 2020 referendum decriminalizing some possession of hard drugs in the state.

The elder Jayapal, a former Multnomah County commissioner, indeed faced a massive outside-spending blitz that went largely unanswered by progressive groups and erased her early fundraising lead over Dexter. The 314 Action PAC spent $2.2 million boosting Dexter. America Leads Action, a conservative group funded by a Walmart heir, spent nearly $1.5 million advertising against Susheela Jayapal. And a mystery group — Voters for Responsive Government, or VRG — spent over $3.2 million attacking her.

Of course, while the super PAC money was likely a prerequisite for Dexter’s victory, VRG found ample fodder in the same quality-of-life issues in Portland that helped oust Schmidt as prosecutor. VRG’s ads blasted Susheela Jayapal for failing to do more to address the Portland-area homelessness crisis during her time on the county commission. And local editorial boards echoed its case.

VRG has not yet had to disclose its donors; progressives suspect that AIPAC or affiliated donors were involved. Donors linked to AIPAC were responsible for the lion’s share of a $200,000, single-day fundraising haul that Dexter brought in earlier this month. And the group, which never endorsed her, congratulated Dexter on her victory Tuesday night.

“AIPAC members were proud to support Maxine Dexter in her race against an anti-Israel opponent endorsed by [Ocasio-Cortez and others],” the group wrote on social media. “Being pro-Israel is good policy and good politics!”

AIPAC, a storied lobbying force, is a progressive villain for good reason. While a significant number of left-wing lawmakers have called for an end to U.S. funding of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, AIPAC helps ensure that U.S. aid and diplomatic support for Israel remain virtually unconditional.

Since 2021, when the group stood up its first super PAC, it has spent tens of millions of dollars in congressional primaries, the vast majority of which — though not all — has gone toward defeating progressives who favor a tougher U.S. line with the Israeli government.

As Ocasio-Cortez referenced in her Wednesday remarks, AIPAC’s political arm endorsed the reelection of more than 100 House Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results. The single-issue group is keen to note that it also endorses Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), as well as numerous other Democrats.

Regardless, highlighting AIPAC’s ties to Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump is harder when the group conceals its involvement in a race — as it likely did in Oregon’s 3rd.

“AIPAC, they’re very good at shapeshifting,” Pramila Jayapal said, adding that the group “didn’t come in as AIPAC, which was part of the problem” in identifying its role in the 3rd District primary.