The campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives set its sights on a surprising target Thursday: Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Moser.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted negative research on Moser, a Houston journalist vying against six other Democrats in the March 6 primary to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson. Democrats locally and nationally have worried that Moser is too liberal to carry a race that has emerged in recent months as one of the most competitive in the country.
The DCCC posting, which features the kind of research that is often reserved for Republicans, notes that Moser only recently moved back to her hometown of Houston and that much of her campaign fundraising money has gone to her husband's political consulting firm. It also calls her a "Washington insider."
But DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly went even further in a statement to The Texas Tribune.
"Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district," Kelly said.
Then, referring to a 2014 Washingtonian magazine piece in which Moser wrote that she would rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than move to Paris, Texas, Kelly added: "Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”
Later Thursday evening, Moser obliquely responded to the allegations on Twitter, quoting former First Lady Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high."
Later in the evening, she expanded her comments in a statement.
"We're used to tough talk here in Texas, but it's disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do. These kind of tactics are why people hate politics," she said. "The days where party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over. DC needs to let Houston vote."
"This is a landmark year in Texas and in states all across the country," she added. "We have a real chance to not only flip District 7, but bring some sanity back to Congress and resist the erratic extremism holding our White House hostage."
"It's a lot to ask, and we can't do any of it by throwing mud and tearing each other down. This is not the time to be a house divided."
Until this point, the DCCC so far this cycle has gone to great lengths to avoid the impression it was taking sides in primaries across the country. A Democratic source did point out to the Tribune that the campaign committee made a similar effort in a 2014 California House race.
A former Democratic operative emailed the Tribune suggesting that the posting was intended to signal to allied groups where and how to make paid attacks.
Texas' 7th Congressional District is new offensive territory for Democrats and an ancestral GOP stronghold. But Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, and a flood of Democrats soon raced to run for the seat.
Moser's bid has been picking up momentum practically daily. Earlier on Thursday, her campaign announced it had raised nearly $150,000 in the first 45 days of the year. And in recent months she has amassed a massive online following for a first-time Congressional candidate. She is also a favorite interview subject of national publications and women's magazines and has a passionate following among many people who supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign in 2016.
This weekend, she is set to host actress and activist Alyssa Milano in the Houston-area district to help get out the vote during early voting.
For months, Democrats in Congress and those who work on campaigns were quietly worried about how Moser would play in a moderate district like the 7th, which encompasses wealthy enclaves of West Houston and stretches out into the suburb of Katy.
Other candidates in the high-profile Democratic primary include cancer researcher Jason Westin; lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher; Alex Triantaphyllis, who runs a Houston nonprofit; senior assistant attorney for the city of Houston James Cargas; former Congressional staffer Ivan Sanchez; and University of Houston development official Joshua Butler.