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To Combat 'Political Malpractice' of Democrats in the Midwest, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Joining Forces to Boost Progressive Agenda in Kansas

"This shows how much [Ocasio-Cortez] is changing the game."

"I'm extremely, extremely excited to have [Sanders] and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in town for an event," said James Thompson, who is running in Kansas' 4th Congressional District. He's not worried about being lumped in with the high-profile democratic socialists, he says, because "my opponent here is a corporate socialist who's been redistributing wealth to people who don't need it." (Image: @JamesThompsonKS/Twitter)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  are joining forces next week as they both head to Kansas to give progressive contenders a lift as they run on a similar agenda of bold and progressive policies in that state's upcoming Democratic primary.

"I've believed for years that the Democratic Party has committed political malpractice by writing off half the states in this country. They’ve got to fight for every state in this country." —Sen. Bernie SandersAccording to the Washington Post's Dave Weigel, "Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will head to Kansas on July 20. They’ll begin in Wichita, where James Thompson, who narrowly lost a special election in 2017, wants another chance to win the 4th Congressional District. They'll continue with an event in the Kansas City suburbs for Brent Welder, a former Sanders delegate now seeking the Democratic nomination in the 3rd Congressional District."

Speaking with Weigel in an interview, Sanders explained the importance of bringing the kind of agenda that fueled his 2016 presidential challenge—and also swept Ocasio-Cortez to her historic victory in New York—to places often characterized as "Red State" bastions.

"I've believed for years that the Democratic Party has committed political malpractice by writing off half the states in this country," said Sanders. "They've got to fight for every state in this country."

For their part, both Thompson and Welder expressed excitement over the endorsements from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez and say they believe the kind of agenda they are promoting—which demands Medicare for All, tuition-free college, ambitious climate action, and a laser focus on economic inequality and the dignity of workers—is exactly what people in their districts need and want to be hearing.

"People keep asking, are these the kind of ideas that a candidate can talk about and be successful in Kansas?" Welder, a 37-year-old labor lawyer, told Weigel earlier this week. "What I've learned on this campaign is that the only way we can be successful is by talking about these ideas."

And despite that President Donald Trump handily won his district in 2016, Thompson said he's not at all worried about being smeared with the "democratic socialist" label even in a district that has leaned Republican in recent years.

"I'm extremely, extremely excited to have the senator and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in town for an event," Thompson said. "They can say that, but my opponent here is a corporate socialist who's been redistributing wealth to people who don't need it."

As Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept, tweeted on Friday night, "This shows how much [Ocasio-Cortez] is changing the game."

And, in his weekend newsletter sent to subscribers on Saturday, Grim added:

Last week, Emily’s List announced it was putting $400,000 of super PAC money behind its candidate in a Kansas House race, Sharice Davids. On Friday, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who had previously endorsed Brent Welder, Davids’ opponent, announced they’d be coming to Kansas to hold rallies for Welder and also for James Thompson, another House candidate.

It'll be fascinating to see whether the infusion of big money into the race is enough to overcome the huge on-the-ground organization that Welder has built. One reason both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez want to come to Kansas is to prove their long-held theory that bold progressive politics doesn’t need to be confined to the coast, and that you can run on things like Medicare for all, and still win, even in Kansas.

Now, Davids isn't really bad: she’s a former Obama official and Native American woman from the district, and also a mixed-martial arts fighter. Pretty great bio! But she isn’t running on the kind of aggressive platform Welder is, and Ocasio-Cortez did. And she’s relying on big money from a super PAC rather than small dollars and an army of volunteer door knockers. And that’s the main cleavage in the Democratic Party right now. The primary is on August 7, should be interesting.

In the wake of her stunning victory in New York last month, Ocasio-Cortez objected to the idea—as Common Dreams reported at the time—that the platform she ran on in Queens and the Bronx does not or would not have have traction in the Midwest or more rural working-class regions.

In his talk with Weigel, Sanders said that Ocasio-Cortez's victory is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger shift in which candidates further to left, running on bold policy agendas, are besting more centrist candidates reluctant to challenge the status quo.

"Alexandria's victory took place after hundreds of volunteers elected two progressive women in Pittsburgh," Sanders said. "It worked in Baltimore, where three incumbent state senators were defeated by progressives. That is really something. It's happened in Chicago, where not only did Chuy Garcia win a primary for Congress, but he brought more progressives into the state legislature. What this is all about is the political revolution."

Though not a political novice by any means, just a few months ago, Ocasio-Cortez was working in a restaurant. And that is not besides the point. That is much of the point.

Turns out, every state has restaurants. And every restaurant has people who work there. And of course it's not just restaurants.

As Sarah Smith, running for Congress in Washington state's 9th District, tweeted in response:

The Kansas Democratic primary is on Tuesday, August 7.

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