Midterm Primary preview

It’s midterm season again, and progressive candidates are gunning for seats all over the country, running for seats from mayor to Congress. After Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (D-NY) defeated Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY) on June 26, 2018, progressives have been emboldened in elections all over, knocking off incumbents and capturing open seats. Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) went on to win primaries that summer, forming “The Squad.” From the Green New Deal to Palestinian rights to seriously reviewing our enormous Pentagon budget, they have brought important political issues to the forefront. 

On June 23 and Aug. 4, 2020, respectively, Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) unseated the Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) narrowly defeated Representative Lacy Clay (D-MO). Representatives Bowman and Bush have gone on to join The Squad. Candidates backed by organizations including the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Our Revolution (OR) and Sunrise Movement hubs have defeated state legislators from both major parties in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island, among other states. As election season rolls around, progressive incumbents are defending their seats, and rising progressive candidates are challenging incumbents and open seats. Here are some of these elections:  

On March 1, in Texas’s 35th Congressional District, Austin City Council Member Gregorio Casar, a progressive who was formerly a member of DSA until coming into conflict with the organization over his position on Israel, became the Democratic nominee with around 60% of the vote. That same night, progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros forced her opponent, Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX), into a runoff in the 28th District. Cuellar is one of the most conservative House Democrats, opposing Roe v. Wade, supporting many of former President Trump’s immigration policies, voting against legal cannabis and endorsing former President George W. Bush in 2000. This runoff will happen on May 24, the same day progressive candidate Michelle Vallejo will run in a primary to fill a competitive Rio Grande Valley seat, and progressive candidate Claudia Zapata will compete for the right to face Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) in November.  

Due to redistricting, March and April will be fairly quiet on the election front, but on May 3, primary season will kick back into gear in Ohio. Progressive Morgan Harper will challenge Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) for the nomination to succeed Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who is retiring. Also, former Bernie Sanders staffer Nina Turner is running for a rematch against freshman Representative Shontel Brown (D-OH), who defeated Turner in August 2021 and is aligned with groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the centrist New Democrats Caucus.  

May 17 will be a big day for progressive candidates. Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky will all be voting, and each state has a high-stakes primary to look forward to. In Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District, based in Louisville, progressive State Representative Attica Scott (D-41) is running against Morgan McGarvey (D-19), Minority Leader of the Kentucky Senate, who works at a union-busting law firm. They are running to succeed outgoing Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY). In Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR), a conservative Democrat who’s been condemned by county parties in his district for fighting against lowering drug prices as part of the Build Back Better Act, is being challenged by Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is openly gay and challenged Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) in 2018. McLeod-Skinner has criticized her opponent for obstructing Build Back Better. The retirement of Representative Peter DeFazio, Chair of the Transportation Committee, in the neighboring 4th Congressional District has set up an interesting primary between former State Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle and climate activist Doyle Canning.  

In North Carolina, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, a daughter of Pakistani immigrants who got into politics after three of her dear friends were murdered in a hate crime, is running on a progressive platform for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. She faces State Senator Valerie Foushee (D-23) as well as American Idol star Clay Aiken. Allam would be the third Muslim woman and fifth Muslim ever elected to Congress. In Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the Senate primary between Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D-PA) and Congressman Conor Lamb (D-PA), there are Congressional primaries in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In the 12th Congressional District, Pittsburgh, DSA member and State Representative Summer Lee (D-34) is running for Congress against local businessman Steve Irwin. Lee defeated State Representative Paul Costa (D-34), a member of the powerful Costa family, in 2018. Irwin is endorsed by the outgoing Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), while Lee was endorsed by progressive Mayor of Pittsburgh Ed Gainey, who defeated a more moderate incumbent last year. In Philadelphia’s 3rd Congressional District, Alexandra Hunt, who gained attention after going public about her past as a stripper, is challenging Representative Dwight Evans (D-PA).  

Down the ballot, there are also progressives and DSA members running for office and challenging incumbents. In Pennsylvania’s 8th State Senate District, Philadelphia DSA-endorsed public school teacher Paul Prescod is challenging State Senator Anthony Williams (D-8). Progressive State Representatives Rick Krajewski (D-188), Elizabeth Fiedler (D-184), Jessica Benham (D-36) and Lee, who is allowed to run for reelection to the State House as well as Congress, are being challenged from the right. North Carolina State Senator Julie Mayfield (D-49) faces a primary challenge from Asheville DSA-endorsed Taylon Breeden. In Louisville, Robert LeVertis Bell is running against State Representative Pamela Stevenson (D-43) with the backing of Louisville DSA. Even further down the ballot, Asheville DSA has fielded Kim Roney for mayor, and Louisville DSA is running Tyler Lamon for Metro Council. In Milwaukee, DSA members Ryan Clancy (an incumbent) and Juan Miguel Martinez were elected to seats on the County Board of Supervisors, joining many elected officials all over the United States who are members of the DSA or local DSA chapters. Clancy and Martinez have pledged to form a socialist caucus on the County Board.  

In an election season where Republicans are predicted to flip seats in both houses, if not regain control of them, and after the loss of Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic Primary, many might think progressives are discouraged and demoralized. That isn’t necessarily the case. Progressives will be a force to be reckoned with in the midterms, and Democratic politicians all over the country are being put on watch.