Driven by the conviction that the Democratic Party must undergo a fundamental transformation if it is to vanquish both the immediate threats posed by President Donald Trump and deep-seated societal ills that were present long before Trump arrived on the scene, progressive insurgents throughout the country are working to unseat Democratic incumbents in the 2018 midterms and push the party left.
"In order for the country to move forward, the Democratic Party has to transform."
"What this is about is that if we reelect the same Democratic Party that we had going into this mess, then we're going to have the same exact result," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign who is taking on Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), said in an interview with Politico. "In order for the country to move forward, the Democratic Party has to transform."
Ocasio-Cortez is just one of many progressives running against the status quo enforced by their state's Democratic machine, which—as The Intercept detailed in a recent report—often works to constrict policy boundaries and tilt the balance of power toward the donor class.
Fueled by small-dollar contributions—which in some cases have been enough to outraise incumbents who rely on corporate cash—grassroots candidates across the nation are working to break through these boundaries by running on ambitious progressive platforms in 2018 that include Medicare for All, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform, and a $15 federal minimum wage.
By Politico's count, "six veteran incumbents already face energetic primary challenges from younger candidates in New York and Massachusetts. In Illinois, two Chicago-based members are being targeted from the left."
Marie Newman, who is taking on right-wing Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District, highlighted shifting public opinion in progressives' favor as one of the reasons insurgents are sparking such enthusiasm in blue states and throughout the U.S.
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"About 75 percent are for healthcare for all or Medicare for All," Newman said of the 3rd District, highlighting a number that coincides with the massive growth in support of Medicare for All nationwide. As Common Dreams reported last July, 62 percent of the American public now believes it is "the federal government's responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage."
"I refuse to wait my turn in an establishment that doesn't make sure that people are competing. That's one of the things the Democrats need to grapple with."
Jan Rodolfo, Midwest director of National Nurses United (NNU), praised Newman in an interview with In These Times, noting that "it's important to send a message to incumbents that if they fail to act as progressives, there's consequences for them electorally."
The wave of progressive primary challenges by candidates like Newman and Ocasio-Cortez come as Democratic voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the party's leadership.
According to a Harvard-Harris poll conducted last October, 52 percent of Democrats think "movements within the Democratic Party to take it even further to the left and oppose the current Democratic leaders."
Suraj Patel, who is challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), told Politico that the progressive wave now taking shape is largely a result the Democratic leadership's failure to respond to the needs of the party's constituents.
"This is a remarkably aware, awakened, active new generation looking at politics as not an option anymore but an obligation. I looked around and I saw a Democratic Party not doing much at all to welcome that group to the fold," Patel said. "I refuse to wait my turn in an establishment that doesn't make sure that people are competing. That's one of the things the Democrats need to grapple with."