By Elaine Godfrey
Even as pundits begin to muse about the presidential prospects of more moderate Democrats like Sherrod Brown of Ohio or Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, progressives are declaring victory in the midterms—and doubling down on their agenda.
While Democrats made significant gains in the House of Representatives in last week’s midterm elections, many progressive candidates, including some of the left’s biggest stars, came up short. Beto O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz by nearly three points in Texas. The gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is still waiting on the results of a recount in Florida, but he is currently trailing Republican Ron DeSantis. And in Maryland, the former NAACP chairman Ben Jealous lost to Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
A few of the most well-known House candidates—Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar—won their elections, but they were running in very blue districts (or, in Pressley’s case, unopposed), and their wins were expected. But a slew of other CPC-endorsed House candidates lost their races. *They included the populist Randy “Ironstache” Bryce, who positioned himself as a working-class hero in Speaker Paul Ryan’s district in Wisconsin; Kara Eastman in Nebraska; and Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas.
Because of this, and because of the big Democratic wins in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania last week, some strategists and commentators have suggested that Democrats would be better off if they nominate more moderate political leaders—nice midwestern folks with experience wrangling independents and Republicans, people who can counter Donald Trump’s brash behavior with pragmatism. In other words, they say, maybe the midterm elections demonstrated that the best Democratic contender in 2020 would be a political centrist.
Whether or not Democratic candidates were endorsed by the CPC or ran on an explicitly progressive platform, progressives believe their agenda was the real winner last week.
Of the 57 incoming Democratic House members, 37 support “Medicare for all,” expanding Social Security, or another Medicare-policy option, according to an analysis by the Progressive Change Institute. That’s 65 percent of the incoming freshman class. Plus, a series of progressive ballot measures were passed in traditionally red states: Missouri and Arkansas approved a measure to raise the minimum wage; Louisiana passed criminal-justice reform; and Medicaid expansion was approved in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska.
“These are not radical ideas; these are ideas that fuel the wins we got in the House,” Jayapal said. “And frankly, I think, if they didn’t fuel a win in Texas and Florida and Georgia, they certainly got us closer than any ideas have ever gotten us before.”