A Note On Democrats Moving Forward
The Blue Wave slammed into the GOP in 2018 and the Democratic party emerged with a new generation of strong leaders. However, I sense the Resistance is beginning to splinter into different groups supporting a who’s who of potential Democratic presidential candidates. The old older of moderate Democrats are trying to reinvent themselves with fresh-faces like Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. Their inter-party rivals, the progressive Democrats, have begun to institutionalize their movement as they gain ground through electoral victories and the further development of a year-round, multi-faceted, political apparatus. A climactic showdown is looming amongst Democrats, but the larger threat prevails, as a criminal president, hell-bent on maintaining power, still looms large over 2020. Democrats must pledge to come together in the fall of that year and put an end to the Trump administration's reign of madness. Maybe one of the Democrats on this list will be the person to lead us to this most necessary victory.
Left Hook’s Top Ten Breakthrough Democrats 2018:
10. Kara Eastman
Kara Eastman, a teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, stunned the political establishment with her Democratic congressional primary victory in May of 2018. Eastman defeated former Congressman Brad Ashford who is a moderate Blue Dog Democrat and who had the full support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Eastman ran an unabashedly progressive campaign in the notoriously conservative Nebraska, calling for universal background checks to buy guns, increasing taxes, and decriminalizing marijuana. She lost in the general election to Republican Rep. Don Bacon by 2 points but Eastman has already announced that she’ll run again in 2020. Eastman’s primary win foreshadowed progressive Democrat victories in the months that followed, the most famous of which was the election and ascension of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
9. Julia Salazar
Who is Julia Salazar? This was a question the news media became obsessed with leading up to Salazar’s Democratic primary in New York’s 18th State Senate district. And boy did they have a lot to talk about. From her teenage love affair with retired professional baseball player Keith Hernandez, the falsification of her academic record, to her claims of poverty debunked (as it was revealed she had a $600,000 trust fund), the strange stories and lies of Salazar seemed endless. Despite Salazar’s questionable personal life, her opponent state Senator Martin Dilan’s was heavily criticized by progressives and the media for receiving large campaign contributions from developers and property owners throughout his eight terms in office. This was during a time when his district was going through rapid gentrification, leading to the displacement of long-time residents and rising rents for those who remained. According to a Gothamist article written during the primary election,“15 percent of Dilan’s campaign donations have come from developers and landlords. That’s nearly twice as much as any other state senator.” Dilan was even a member of the obstructionist Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) which caucused with Republican senators giving the GOP control of the state Senate. This betrayal of Democrats stalled progressive legislation for years.
Salazar ran on a platform advocating for policies including universal rent control, universal health care, and tuition-free public universities. She teamed up with the Democratic Socialists of America to galvanize young progressives in her Senate district and ended up winning the Democratic primary election by 17 points (effectively securing her victory in the general election). Although Salazar claims to hold democratic socialist views in the ilk of Bernie Sanders, it's hard to take anything she says seriously given her long history of telling mistruths. Julia Salazar's breakthrough win came at the cost of potentially limiting her career in politics but was probably the best thing for the 18th Senate district moving forward.
8. Richard Ojeda
Ojeda is a US Army veteran and West Virginia state senator who ran for Congress in 2018 in West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District. He lost by 14 points but was able to score a 35 point swing of 2016 Trump voters towards a Democrat in his district, the largest such turnaround for Democrats in the country. A no-holds-bar campaign ad launched him as a national figure whose country boy accent contrasted compellingly with his democratic socialist rhetoric. He’s a populist fighter, who some would even consider a left-wing version of President Trump. He even admits to voting for Trump in hopes that Trump would turn around the economy for West Virginians, but now says it was a mistake. Some of the radical policy measures he has called for includes mandatory body cameras for lobbyists, making pharmaceutical companies pay for the recovery expenses of their customers who become addicted to their drugs, and forcing all members of Congress and the president to give up all but 1 million dollars of their net worth when they take office. Ojeda launched his 2020 presidential campaign in November of 2018 but remains a longshot candidate who might find it difficult to be taken seriously in a potentially crowded Democratic primary full of more well-known candidates.
7. Alessandra Biaggi
The granddaughter of a legendary and controversial U.S. congressman, Alessandra Biaggi primaried the extremely powerful and influential state Senator and former IDC leader Jeff Klein in the 34th Senate District of New York which encompasses parts of the Bronx, Eastchester, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and Pelham. Biaggi, a former aide to Andrew Cuomo, was the Assistant Director of Operations on Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign. Her opponent Jeff Klein, had been the leader of the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference) which was a group of breakaway state Senate Democrats who caucused with state Senate Republicans, allowing these Senators to have more influence over the political process (but also led to them being vilified and eventually primaried and most of them defeated by progressive Democrats like Biaggi). Klein received massive campaign donations from corporations and returned the favor by pushing pro-business legislation including; A bill to increase cigarette wholesalers profits, legislation to allow payday lenders to charge 200 percent interest, and a resolution that would have defunded the state's health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Klein made a deal in May 2018 with Rep. Joe Crowley and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to dissolve the much-maligned IDC in return for a promise that the Democratic establishment in New York State would not endorse any challengers of former IDC Senators like Klein. It didn’t work. A coalition of progressive groups including Empire State Indivisible, the Democratic Socialists of America, Citizen Action of New York, and many others, worked together to support anti-IDC candidates like Biaggi. Their efforts paid off as Biaggi and 5 other anti-IDC progressive Democrat challengers won their Democratic primaries, upsetting the New York political machine, and ushering in a new era of progressive politics in New York State.
6. Lucy McBath
Lucy McBath scored a huge victory for the gun-control reform movement when she won a seat in Congress by defeating Republican incumbent Rep. Karen Handel in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. McBath’s son Jordan Davis tragically lost his life after being shot at a gas station by a middle-aged white man who was angry that Jordan and his friends were playing loud music from their car. The man was sentenced to life in jail and McBath became a gun reform advocate. She testified alongside Trayvon Martin’s mother - Sybrina Fulton - about the impact of Stand Your Ground laws on their son's deaths in front of the Senate and McBath became the spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She campaigned on a platform of growing the economy, funding education, addressing climate change - and passing gun reform. Her victory shows that the gun reform is finally becoming an issue candidates can run on instead of run away from.
5. Ayanna Pressley
Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley’s congressional primary victory over 10-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Capuano shocked the political world. Pressley has her roots in establishment Democrat politics as a former staffer for Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and Sen. John Kerry. Pressley’s underdog campaign called for “Medicare for all, stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, and expanding rent subsidies for low-income families.” Pressley is the first African American women elected to Congress from Massachusetts and has indicated that she’ll continue breaking boundaries saying to Buzzfeednews, “[Democrats must ask themselves] if we are simply content with making history, or if want to commit ourselves to working together to make a lasting, transformative change.”
4. Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams is a former Georgia state senator, author, entrepreneur, lawyer, and non-profit leader who ran a hugely inspiring campaign for governor of Georgia in 2018. After winning a bruising primary battle against a woman whose first name was also Stacey, Abrams faced an ever tougher and dirtier fight against Republican State Attorney General Brian Kemp in the general election. Even before the 2018 governor's election Brian Kemp and Abrams were engaged in an intense battle over voter rights and suppression. Abrams, who would have been the first African-American women to be governor in American history, raised questions early on regarding Kemp’s handling of Georgia’s voting system which fell under his control as the Georgia secretary of state. Abrams’ worries were well founded. Nearly 70 percent of the 53,000 voter registrations that were put on hold in Georgia (largely due to actions which were taken by State Attorney General Brian Kemp) were from African Americans (making them ineligible to vote in 2018). On the day of the election, there were huge lines and delays at polling stations in African American areas like Atlanta as well as malfunctioning voter machines. Abrams fell short of victory by less than 2 percentage points, refused to concede for more than a week, before finally calling it quits while announcing she’d launch a "major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions." Even though she lost the election, Stacey Abrams proved herself as a fighter Democrats can rally behind and has already confirmed that she will run for public office again.
3. Andrew Gillum
Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Florida, launched a compelling and extremely charismatic campaign for governor of Florida in 2018. Gillum campaigned on a platform which called for increasing the state’s corporate tax rate to fund education, raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system at the national level. Gillum was trailing in third and fourth place for most of the Florida Democratic primary for governor until Sen. Bernie Sanders swooped in and endorsed Gillum a few weeks before primary day. This brought Gillum tons of media exposure and Sanders used his formidable supporter list to send get-out-the-vote emails in support of Gillum during the crucial final days of the election. Gillum won and was instantly crowned by the media as a rising progressive star in the Democratic party. In the general election, Gillum ultimately fell less than 1 percentage point short of victory and eventually conceded the race to Republican Ron DeSantis. Gillum has met with President Barrack Obama regarding a potential 2020 presidential run and at only 39 Gillum is poised to be a leading figure of the Democratic Party in the years to come.
2. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Out of seemingly nowhere Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became a national figure embodying the defining characteristics of the blue wave: a person of color, young, female, and unabashedly progressive. She took on the Queens political machine, was derided as a naive political newcomer who stood no shot of winning her Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district—and then she won, defeating the powerful party boss and congressman, Rep. Joseph Crowley. She showed the political world that the Clintonian/Obamaite neo-liberal wing of the Democratic party was losing ground, and rapidly getting replaced by an authentic new generation of progressive Democrats. These Democrats wouldn’t settle for corporate subjugation, and would instead fight for the common people and seek to create and pass truly progressive legislation like the Green New Deal (which AOC has put on the map). She’s adeptly used social media to further progressive causes to the bewilderment of Capitol Hill establishment consultants. Too young to run for president at 29, she has years to further develop her political acumen and will likely succeed Bernie Sanders, who is 77 years old, as the leading voice of the democratic socialist movement in the United States.
1. Beto O’Rourke
Rep. Beto O’Rourke burst onto the national scene during his 2018 Texas Senate race against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. His Kennedyesque good looks, barnstorming campaign style, and his unabashedly anti-Trump rhetoric, brought him national media coverage. Beto quickly became a household name amongst politicos and he’s received strong interest from the Democratic establishment as well as having developed a base of country-wide grassroots support for a presidential run. He lost his Senate bid and his campaign was criticized by veteran political operatives for appealing more to coastal progressives than to Texas voters (the people who actually would vote in the Senate election). It’s clear now that he'll run for President in 2020 and will be one of the leading contenders to win the Democratic nomination. Even if he loses in the Democratic primary, Beto will certainly be an important voice in the national political scene for many years to come.
Collage Images Via Youtube and Twitter
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