Progressive problem: Democrats are abandoning AOC’s brand as they fight to win seats in contested territory

Some Democrats have shied away from the “progressive” label in their bids for competitive seats, while others are ideologically aligning less with the progressive left.

The progressive left label is commonly associated with members of the “Squad,” including Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who is in a high-stakes contest for the Arizona Senate seat left open by the retiring Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), became the latest Democrat to shy away from the label when speaking with NBC News.

When asked if he still considers himself a progressive, he deflected by saying, “I consider myself an Arizona member of Congress who works across the aisle with everybody.”

“I work for Arizonans,” Gallego told the outlet. “And sometimes that makes me cross a lot of political spectrums.”

Gallego’s pivot away from the harder edge of his party is not new. He also claimed that he let his membership to the Congressional Progressive Caucus lapse because members “increased their dues tremendously,” adding that he works for his constituents.

He is one of several House Democrats who have reportedly left the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have also left the caucus, according to Axios, for a variety of reasons. Lofgren had similarly cited increased dues as a reason for letting her membership lapse.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) has not turned away from the progressive label, but his stance on Israel and other “progressive” policies has led to him drawing a strong challenger. He is one of several “Squad” members facing tough, well-funded primary challengers focused on unseating them because of their political alignment.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-PA) turn away from the label has been one of the highest-profile abdications. Last year, he said in no uncertain terms that he is “not a progressive.”

Fetterman was speaking out against Democrats bashing Israel, saying, “I just think I’m a Democrat that is very committed to choice and other things. But with Israel, I’m going to be on the right side of that. And immigration is something near and dear to me, and I think we do have to effectively address it as well.”

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Fetterman, who had the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was campaigning in 2022, has split his allegiances with Democrats and Republicans far more often than was originally anticipated.

With Democrats looking to maintain control of the Senate and win back the House of Representatives in November, many in competitive races may look to distance themselves from the progressive label — but for President Joe Biden, some worry losing progressives in some states could cost him the White House.

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