After Thursday night's final gubernatorial debate in Michigan's Democratic primary race, voters and political commentators alike pronounced progressive candidate Abdul El-Sayed the clear winner, praising his universal healthcare plan and refusal to take corporate donations.
El-Sayed denounced former state Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer for campaigning on health care reform while allowing health insurance executives to host a fundraiser for her, accusing her of "corruption."
He also touted his plan for a state-level Medicare for All plan, a proposal the former Detroit Health Department director says will save Michigan families $5,000 per year.
What I’m running for:
Paying people a living wage.
A good education for all.
Taking care of our planet.
People over profits.
These are not political issues. They’re moral ones.
— Abdul El-Sayed (@AbdulElSayed) July 20, 2018
"We have to stand up for a Michigan that embraces our future," said El-Sayed. "That means we have to stand up for a Michigan that's for the people, by the people."
"To me, it is about standing up to the dominance of a particular economic elite, about recognizing that real people are suffering every single day and about being willing to stand up for policies that empower real people over the corporations." —Abdul El-SayedIn two separate polls gauging reactions from more than 7,000 Michigan residents, El-Sayed was declared the winner of the debate, gathering 71 percent of the vote in one survey and 59 percent in another. Whitmer trailed behind him in each, losing by dozens of percentage points.
"El-Sayed performed the strongest, he really honed in on values that everyone should have access to economic opportunities, everyone should have access to healthcare," Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López told WDIV-TV, the local station which hosted the debate. "Those things are really going to resonate with folks who usually don't engage in primaries."
His performance won praise on social media as well.
I’m the only one in my household who is a Democrat, but @AbdulElSayed has won every vote in my house. I never thought I’d see the day that I would be gathered around the TV with my parents to watch a Democratic primary debate. #MIDemDebate
— Stefanie Mezigian (@SmthgsAfootMI11) July 20, 2018
. @AbdulElSayed was on fire tonight in the #MIDemDebate!!! i have never been so passionate about a candidate before. made my first political contribution at $25 dollars to his grassroots campaign. and i am a proud volunteer! vote vote vote in the primary #ForOurFuture
— steph (@scr33chh) July 20, 2018
El-Sayed's commitment to fighting for bold reforms has recently won him endorsements from the Justice Democrats—the group that has backed progressive candidates including Ben Jealous in Maryland's gubernatorial race, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and Laura Moser in Texas—as well as filmmaker and activist Michael Moore.
There is only one candidate running for Governor of Michigan who will work for the people and that's @AbdulElSayed! He is rejecting all corporate PAC money unlike his opponents. https://t.co/DKebbmz3CE
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) July 20, 2018
I’m supporting Abdul El-Sayed for Governor of Michigan. He’s the true progressive voice in the race. He supports single-payer Medicare for All. The other candidate is supported by business interests. Abdul takes no PAC money. After what Flint has been through he is our only hope.
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) July 19, 2018
El-Sayed's refusal to take corporate money has offered a stark contrast to Whitmer, who recently benefited from a $1.8 million ad campaign paid for by donors who may remain anonymous until after the August 7th primary election.
Build a Better Michigan, the 527 organization behind the ads, is required to disclose its donors—but it sent information about its financial backing to the IRS via mail rather than electronically in recent days.
"It can take as long as eight to 10 weeks for the IRS to upload a report submitted by mail to its public website, meaning Build a Better Michigan's full donor disclosure document may not be public until sometime between Sept. 15 to Sept. 30," wrote Jonathan Oosting in the Detroit News.
The lack of transparency is "corrupting our Democratic primary," El-Sayed said during the debate.
"We need to know where the money's coming from," he told the Detroit News. "Especially if it's unlimited corporate contributions."
El-Sayed's website details other aspects of his 20-point plan for Michigan, including a minimum wage of $15 per hour, making college tuition free for families earning under $150,000 per year, and fighting for clean drinking water by shutting down polluting pipelines like the one Enbridge runs through the Straits of Mackinac.
In a recent interview with Jeremy Scahill on the podcast "Intercepted," El-Sayed spoke about his hope that progressive candidates such as himself will remake the Democratic Party and U.S. government as entities that work for working Americans instead of corporate interests.
"The responsibility right now is to pull us as a party to FDR’s Democratic Party and to remind ourselves that we have an opportunity about what is morally correct and about fighting for that right now," said El-Sayed. "And, to me, it is about standing up to the dominance of a particular economic elite, about recognizing that real people are suffering every single day and about being willing to stand up for policies that empower real people over the corporations."