Election season is over — now what?

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On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the United States held elections for the U.S. Congress, Governor, almost every state-level legislative body and countless local and prosecutorial offices all over the country. Democrats were widely expected to lose control of both houses of Congress in a blowout. After Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) won an upset victory in November 2021 and flipped the Virginia Governor’s Mansion, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) predicted a red wave that could flip 60-70 seats from Democratic to Republican. Instead, Democrats expanded their Senate majority and only lost 9 house seats. The GOP House majority is a fragile one. Representatives-elect John Duarte (R-Calif.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) won their elections by 593 and 3,250 votes, respectively, while Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) infamous for her conspiracy theories and bigotry, only won by 554 votes. On the Senate side, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) won his election by around 30,000 votes, far closer than any of his previous elections. Although the House flipped to Republican control, the Democratic caucus has shifted left. State Representative Summer Lee (D-Pa.), a socialist, will represent Pittsburgh, while Gregorio Casar, a socialist city council member in Austin, was also elected. Vermont’s sole house seat will go to State Senator Becca Balint (D-Vt.), the first woman to represent the state, who is aligned with the left and State Representative Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), a progressive, will represent a new seat in Chicago. Finally, union organizer and Bernie Sanders delegate Chris Deluzio was elected to represent areas surrounding Pittsburgh, Pa., keeping a swing seat blue.  

Why did this red wave not materialize? Who were the real winners and losers? And how did the election go down the ballot?   

One of the biggest reasons the Republicans lost was that they did not propose economic solutions for struggling Americans. Because their economic solutions exacerbate wealth inequality – far right Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) essentially admitted in an interview with left-wing YouTube personality Cenk Uygur that he doesn’t think the minimum wage should exist – they turn to abortion, the 2020 election and queer people to rev up their base. However, the right overestimated how much this would turn out their supporters. According to a Gallup poll from June 2022, 55% of the country is pro-choice, while the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Donald Trump only polls at about 30-35% (which is still deeply concerning). Even among Republican voters who don’t believe that transgender people should be allowed to compete on sports teams that align with their gender identity, the issue is ranked as an issue of least importance.  

The other major reason that the red wave didn’t happen was a large gap in candidate quality between both sides. On Aug. 2, in Michigan and Washington’s third districts, Representatives Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) lost in the primary to Trump-backed challengers from the right, John Gibbs and Joe Kent, respectively, both of whom questioned the integrity of the 2020 election. Gibbs and Kent both lost on election night. Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), famous for her gaffes and resigning before her term ended, lost a special election for Alaska’s House seat and then lost the general election to Representative Mary Peltola (D-Alaska). Peltola positions herself as staunchly pro-worker and was such a good candidate that even Palin likes her. Peltola is the first Alaska Native ever in Congress.  

The contrast in candidate quality is extremely clear in Pennsylvania and Georgia. The Senate race featured Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D-Pa.) – a popular former small town mayor who ran on strengthening unions, legalizing cannabis and protecting immigrants, queer people and the right to an abortion – and TV personality Mehmet Oz – a wealthy former reality TV “doctor”, well known for pushing fake medicine on his show, who repeatedly tried and failed to appear working class and who tried to publicly shame Fetterman for his health issues, lost by about 5%. The governor’s race featured Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.) and State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Pa.). The latter is an insurrectionist who participated in the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Mastriano lost by about 10 points. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) and Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) were both reelected. Kemp is an awful Republican who supports the disenfranchisement of Black voters, but notably, he distanced himself from Trump and projected a competent image. On the other hand, Warnock’s opponent, Herschel Walker, is a football player who spent his campaign dodging allegations of affairs and pressuring his mistresses to get abortions (despite his public anti-abortion stance).   

Additionally, Republicans failed to defeat Governors Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.), J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) and Tony Evers (D-Wis.) after nominating extremely right-wing candidates. Kansas Republicans couldn’t even manage to defeat Governor Laura Kelly (D-Kan.) in a very red state. The Republican challengers focused on abortion, Trump, and transgender people. In Nevada, Joe Lombardo, who is awful but not aligned with the far right, defeated Governor Steve Sisolak (D-Nev.) and flipped the seat.   

It’s telling that Republican candidates who distanced from Trump tended to overperform Republicans who tied themselves to Trump. The biggest losers of the night were Trump and insurrectionist candidates. In Arizona, insurrectionist candidates lost every statewide election. Abraham Hamadeh and Kari Lake were narrowly defeated for Attorney General and Governor, and white nationalist Blake Masters was crushed by Senator Mark Kelly (R-Ariz.). Perhaps the best result was Secretary of State. Secretaries of state are responsible for overseeing elections, and pro-Trump candidates have been contesting these races, hoping to overturn results they don’t like. The far-right failed to elect Kristina Karamo in Michigan, Amy Loudenbeck in Wisconsin, Jim Marchant in Nevada, Kim Crockett in Minnesota and Audrey Trujillo in New Mexico. In Arizona, the Republican nominee for Secretary of State was State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Ariz.), an election denier who is a member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Finchem was defeated resoundingly by former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a progressive Democrat.  

Another big loser on election night was now-former Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who formerly chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Maloney is a conservative, pro-fossil fuel Democrat who makes his dislike for the left flank of his party well-known. After New York’s redistricting, Maloney ran away from his old district, which didn’t include his house but includes the communities he’s most familiar with, to run against progressive Representative Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), the first openly gay Black man ever elected to Congress, hoping that he would run against fellow progressive Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). Jones considered it, but ultimately decided to run in New York’s 10th district, splitting the vote amongst the progressive candidates and paving the way for conservative (for his district) Democrat Dan Goldman to win the primary and the general election. Around the time of this redistricting, a conservative Democratic congressman was defeated in a Democratic primary in Oregon by progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner, at which point the DCCC chose to abandon the district. Maloney resoundingly defeated a progressive primary challenger and then went on to lose his own re-election, while Representative Pat Ryan (D-N.Y.) held onto the seat Maloney ran away from. Maloney blamed the left after his loss.  

In case you thought the Democrats would learn anything from this election, they voted in the leadership of Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the rest of the leadership team announced their retirement. Yay…Needless to say, I’m extremely disappointed with progressive House Democrats for voting for them.  

Although the elections for House were a bit disappointing for progressives, state level races went much better. Republicans failed to flip a single state legislative chamber, while Democrats flipped the Minnesota Senate, the Pennsylvania State House and both houses of Michigan’s legislature. Many of the legislative majorities that Democrats now hold will be made up, in large part, of left-wing politicians. In New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, the entire slate of progressives elected to their state legislatures in 2018 and 2020 were reelected, while new members were added in each state. In other states, Ryan Clancy and Darrin Madison established a socialist bloc in Wisconsin’s legislature, progressive Darya Farivar was elected to the Washington State House, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member Rachel Ventura is an Illinois State Senator-elect and police/prison abolitionist Elisabeth Epps won her election for State Representative in Colorado. DSA member Abraham Aiyash (D-Mich.) was even selected as the majority floor leader by his colleagues.  

Further down the ballot, it was a night of extremely mixed results for the electoral left. In Portland, Ore., the lone progressive voice in city government, Jo Ann Hardesty, was defeated by a conservative candidate who’s donated to school board candidates across the state of Oregon who spread panic about public schools teaching “Critical Race Theory” (code for teaching racism) and “indoctrinating children into gender ideology” (code for acknowledging the existence of queer people). In San Francisco, progressive Supervisor Gordon Mar narrowly lost to a challenger who ran to his right. But in Los Angeles, the DSA expanded their ranks after labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez defeated Council member Mitch O’Farrell. Soto-Martínez and Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated now-disgraced Council member Gil Cedillo in June, will join Council member Nithya Raman. The same night, Republican billionaire Rick Caruso failed to buy the mayor’s office and leftist accountant Kenneth Mejia crushed Council member Paul Koretz in the open race for City Controller. Austin re-elected progressive council members Natasha Harper-Madison and Paige Ellis, while progressive challenger Zohaib Qadri was elected to the council. And, while “tough-on-crime” prosecutors like San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins were re-elected convincingly, progressive prosecutorial candidates did well in other parts of the country, including Pamela Price in neighboring Alameda County, Calif., Kimberly Graham in Polk County, Iowa and Leesa Manion in King County, Wash.  

Due to the mixed nature of the results, it’s hard to know what to come away from it with. It’s clear that abortion, criminal justice reform and trans people are far more popular than insurrection, police brutality and austerity and that class-based politics can work in this country. It’s also clearer than ever that the future of the Democratic Party lies with its young, working class, active voters, not its wealthy, austerity-pushing donors and politicians.  

Finally, this election makes it extremely clear that if we want to see action on the urgent issues of our time, we have to organize to make it happen. A broken political system cannot deliver the change we need to see.