The body responsible for electing Democrats to the House of Representatives threw its support behind Connecticut congressional candidate Jahana Hayes on Wednesday, making her the latest Black woman to be added to the committee's list of House contenders likely to flip seats from red to blue in 2018. The problem is there are still only three Black women on the list—out of 73 candidates total.
Being named to the Democratic Congressional Committee's Red to Blue list provides candidates with the crucial institutional backing they need to ingratiate themselves with local and national Democrats, attract major donors, and rack up endorsements from big-name groups like EMILY's List, which often take their cues from the DCCC. If Black women aren't equally represented on the list, advocates worry it means they lose an equal shot to win their races.
“Look, we know that 2018 is looking like a year where we’re going to see big Democratic wins,” Quentin James, the co-founder of Collective PAC, a political action committee that recruits and runs Black candidates, told the Washington Post in March. “We want to ensure that the Democrats being elected around the country are representative of the party as a whole. And we’re concerned with the money being withheld from candidates of color, particularly Black candidates.”
At the time, the DCCC was recovering from criticism over not having named a Black candidate of any gender to the Red to Blue list. They'd just named Lauren Underwood, a political advisor running in Illinois, and Colin Allred, a former NFL player and attorney running in Texas, to the list, following a list of demands James had submitted to national Democrats, requesting meetings to discuss a strategy for backing more Black candidates.
The Democratic National Committee and DCCC committed to spending $25 million on outreach to women and people of color running for office, but some Black women candidates still felt snubbed by Democrats in their individual House races.
“People don’t have the vision to say, ‘Hey, you can excite this base that doesn’t look like you,’” Tamara Harris, whose primary opponent Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey's 11th congressional district earned the DCCC's endorsement, told Newsweek in April. “If Black women are powerful enough to move markets or change the outcome of a race, we are definitely powerful enough to speak to diverse audiences and address issues that affect all of us.” Harris fell to Sherrill in June.
In another New Jersey House district, first-time candidate Tanzie Youngblood, who is Black, was aghast when the DCCC backed a conservative, anti-choice state legislator, Jeff Van Drew, over her. Youngblood lost her primary as well. "They don't see the value in a candidate like me," she said at the time.
“We are proud to have a diverse Red to Blue program and to be working with a historic number of women and diverse candidates across our targeted battlefield, and we will continue to build on that important work as we fight to take back the House,” Kamau Marshall, the DCCC’s African American Media director, had told Newsweek in a statement.
The DCCC did not immediately respond to Broadly's request for comment.
If she defeats Republican nominee Manny Santos in November, Hayes will become Connecticut's first Black Democrat in Congress. In a district that's solidly Democratic, Hayes has a pretty good shot. Other Black women candidates on the DCCC's Red to Blue list face stiffer odds: Lucy McBath, who's running in Georgia, is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Karen Handel in the state's 6th congressional district, which is leaning Republican. Underwood is also running in a district that's leaning Republican, and will go up against Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren.
The DCCC's blessing could help tip the scales in their favor, buoying the grassroots support already propelling their campaigns.
“People told me I had no chance and I had no business trying to do this,” Hayes said Tuesday night following her primary win. “We proved them wrong.”