Susheela Jayapal

Susheela Jayapal, in a portrait provided by her campaign, was defeated in the Democratic Party primary that took place in Oregon on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

(Photo: Courtesy of Hannah Love)

Progressives Brought Down Under Crush of AIPAC-Affiliated Money in Oregon Primaries

"This race showed so clearly why we need to have real campaign finance reform," said Susheela Jayapal, who lost after being outspent 30-to-1.

Progressives lost two Democratic primary races in Oregon on Tuesday following heavy spending by outside groups, including at least one tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has spent heavily to oppose left-wing and pro-Palestinian candidates in races across the U.S. in recent months.

In Oregon's 3rd Congressional District, Maxine Dexter defeated Susheela Jayapal, taking 51.1% of the vote to just 28.6% for Jayapal as of Wednesday morning. Jayapal—the elder sister of Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has been critical of Israel—was seen as the most progressive candidate in the race and a potential new member of her sister's caucus. The Portland-area seat is solidly blue and Dexter is expected to win easily in the general election.

Dexter, a member of the state House, received an enormous boost from outside groups, which spent roughly $7 million in supporting her and opposing Jayapal. Pro-Israeli donors funneled $2.2 million through 314 Action Fund, a political action committee (PAC) that served as a vehicle for AIPAC donors, according toThe Intercept. Another PAC attacking Jayapal called Voters for Responsive Government, newly formed for this race, has not yet had to release its donor list. Ultimately, Dexter's supporters outspent Jayapal's 30-to-1, HuffPost reported.

"This race showed so clearly why we need to have real campaign finance reform that allows for public financing," Susheela Jayapal wrote on social media Wednesday, criticizing the role of outside super PACs, which she said timed their contributions so they wouldn't have to reveal their donors until after the primary.

AIPAC didn't formally endorse Dexter during the primary race but did congratulate her on Tuesday night in a social media post.

Another state representative, Janelle Bynum, won the Democratic primary in Oregon's 5th Congressional District with 68.9% of the vote, defeating progressive candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner in a race in which outside spending was also somewhat lopsided, according to OpenSecrets data. 314 Action Fund poured nearly $500,000 into the race. The Intercept's Ryan Grim argued that the PAC's involvement in this race revealed the hollowness of its claim to support scientists and pro-science candidates—Bynum is a McDonald's franchise owner.

Unlike Oregon's 3rd District, its 5th District will likely have a competitive race in November, with Bynum seeking to unseat incumbent Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.), who narrowly defeated McLeod-Skinner in 2022. National Democrats have their eyes on the seat, which is seen as highly winnable, with President Joe Biden having won the district handily in 2020. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee supported Bynum with more than $1 million in the primary, according toCNN.

As elsewhere, pro-Israel groups funded ads in Oregon that had nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. This a strategic decision by AIPAC and its super PAC, United Democracy Project (UDP), thanks to growing support for the Palestinian cause, according toPolitico.

AIPAC chooses races carefully, sometimes focusing on preventing progressives such as Susheela Jayapal from entering office rather than on dislodging existing members. After spending millions against Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) in 2022, UDP stayed out of this year's primary, in which the "Squad" member faced a pro-Israeli Democrat. Lee won the primary handily last month, even though her opponent was backed by a billionaire megadonor.

Yet UDP does take on Squad members when it sees opportunity: It's pouring big resources into primary challenges to Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.). Bowman faces a pro-Israel Democrat on June 25, Bush on August 6.

"Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda and refuses to compromise—even with President Biden," a UDP attack ad says, criticizing him for not supporting legislation backed by most congressional Democrats.

Commentators have pointed out that the resources that progressive groups must use to defend the seats of Bowman and Bush limits their ability to help newcomers such as Susheela Jayapal.

"In a different cycle, Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party might have been able to help Susheela Jayapal, but they have their hands full—and their wallets committed—as they seek to defend Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush," Daniel Marans, a politics reporter at HuffPost, wrote on social media Wednesday.

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