When Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign ended in the spring of 2020, observers wonderedWhat would happen to the thousands of activists who were part of the Sanders campaigns in 2016 & 2020? There were worries on the left that without a central, unifying presidential candidate, the energy that had built up around progressive electoral organization would die. Two years have passed since the campaign’s end and there are midterm elections around the corner, so we can begin to make judgments about the current state of progressive electoralism post-Sanders.
There are many, but there are few. headline-grabbing victoriesThe movement to elect progressives at all levels of government, in every part of the country, is alive and well today, as it was in the early days after the surge in electoral organizing. It is important to consider both the national and local levels in order to get a clear picture.
The election results for progressive candidates at national level this year have been mixed. This was evident in Texas in 2022. Jessica Cisneros failedShe defeated Henry Cuellar, an anti-abortion Democrat, in her closely-watched congressional primary (and subsequent election). Meanwhile, in Texas’s 35th congressional district, progressive Greg Casar handily won his primary. (He’ll have an easy contest in November and will join Congress in January.) It continued all year. In Pennsylvania’s 12th district, Summer Lee narrowly defeatedThe moderater (and) AIPAC-supported) Steve Irwin. Meanwhile, New York’s 10th congressional district was an absolute train wreck of personal ambition and competing progressive lobbies, allowing the establishment-friendly Daniel Goldman to secure a win with just 25 percent of the vote.
The poor performance of progressive congressional candidates has given rise to widespread despair. In fact, many of its opponents have identified signs of its imminent burnout almost from the moment that the current phase electoral progressivism began to surge across the United States.
Critics of electoral progressivism argue the following: Trump years presented an anomalous backdropThat the left could politicize against; or that the leftists can only winin low-turnout elections; that progressive candidates used the elementof surprise to remove entrenched incumbents. This tactic has yielded diminishing returns as it is reorientated around it. High-profile losses, like Cisneros in Texas or Nina Turner’s special election defeatThese claims are supported by 2021.
However, the picture at a local level is quite different. The results of the national elections are being held in all 50 states and municipalities. Openly socialist and progressive candidatesThey have won many victories in the contested primary elections this election. What’s even more striking is that candidates Districts reflecting a wide variety of demographic configurations are seeing success.These results are contrary to the belief that left-wing candidates cannot win in diverse, urban areas.
Delaware is a state that is more well-known for its renowned beaches. corporate-friendly tax policyFour Democratic Socialists of America members are more radical than their radical politics. won primariesFor the state house and senate with two other nonmember DSA-endorsees gaining state seats. In Colorado, considered a swing stateTwo self-identified democratic socialists ran on a platform of ademocratization until the end of the last decade. police abolition platform, won races for Colorado’s state house. In Wisconsin two democratic socialistsThe socialists will be elected to the state house, while others won on county councils. This is a significant group of socialists who were elected in a state where Joe Biden won just half a point in 2020.
These victories are coming as the terrain for progressive electoralists is becoming more complex over the past four years. In 2018, and 2020, progressives were more aggressive in seeking out vulnerable incumbents and channeling power from a new generation, eager to maintain their newly acquired electioneering skills.
However, progressives found themselves in 2022 having to defend their incumbent candidates just as much as being on the offensive. Gabriel Acevero, DSA member and Maryland state delegate, faced challenges in Montgomery County, Maryland. opposition from his own district colleagues, as two delegates in his multicandidate district tried to replace Acevero with a third, more establishment-friendly delegate. (They failed. Acevero won reelection on July.
Eric Adams is the new Mayor of New York City. leveraged his bully pulpitTo support, among other things, a challenger seeking to unseat State Senator Jabari Brisport (that effort was also unsuccessful). Members of “the Squad” in Congress — Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman — have also had to defend their seats against well-funded opponents whose backers would greatly prefer a representative less hostile to corporate interests.
People are becoming more dispersed as the left-leaning electoralists have devoted their efforts to smaller campaigns all over the country. They don’t have one candidate they can rally around, and have become increasingly dispersed. Although these campaigns are more effective because of their individual expertise, it is harder for analysts and observers to determine if progressives are still running winning campaigns.
Taken together, though, The electoral results of this campaign season do not paint a picture that the movement is in decline.Instead, they suggest a maturing organization moving from its upstart phase to a more established form, which is struggling with many of those issues that are associated with formalized American political structures. This maturation distinguishes the current progressive surge and previous left electoral efforts that showed little continuity between election cycles. The fact that progressive campaigns, organizations, and individuals have continued to mount political efforts in an increasingly hostile environment is a further sign of a movement that is stabilizing the long-term.
There are many other indicators that stability is occurring. First, progressive elected officials are beginning to learn how to legislate and making real policy changes at the local and state levels. For example, in New York State, progressive legislators led by DSAers who were elected in 2018 and 2020 to state office have repeatedly introduced bills that would. fundamentally alter the relationshipa state between tenants and landlords. This legislative effort is reminiscent of Congresswoman Cori Bush’s bold protestIn 2021, this helped to extend an expulsion moratorium that kept hundreds and thousands of people in their homes. A movement that is building for long-term success is one of the most encouraging signs.
In addition to that, progressive electoral efforts are helping build a pool of elected officials. Today’s candidates for local and state office are on a path to achieving higher offices and a stronger grip on the levers. While the U.S. right-wing has always understood the importance of building a network of electeds and standard bearers, the core Democratic Party leadership of centrist and left-leaning politicos have not yet learned this lesson. (See, for example, the party’s inaction over the Biden succession question.) This is a testimony to their vision that progressives are aware of this need.
Although progressives have not seen as many spectacular wins at the national level in 2022 than they did in 2018, left electoral momentum continues its drive to win at all levels of government across the country. These modest, but countrywide victories show that there is an evolving movement, led by activists looking towards the future.