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'Groundbreaking Win for Our Movement': Progressive Cori Bush Upsets Rep. Lacy Clay, Ending 50-Year Political Dynasty

"From the Bronx to St. Louis, the Squad is here to stay, and it's still growing."

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Toppling a St. Louis family political dynasty that spanned five decades, activist and registered nurse Cori Bush ousted 10-term Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri's 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, a monumental upset that will replace an entrenched corporate-backed incumbent with a working class progressive.

"Today, the people of St. Louis made a decision—from all corners of Missouri's 1st District, our communities have embraced a bold, fearless vision of real change where regular, everyday people like us can feel it. Today, the people won."
—Cori Bush

With 100% of the vote reporting, Bush defeated Clay by a slim margin of 48.6% to 45.5% in what a local reporter characterized as "one of the most significant moments in the history of St. Louis politics." Bush's win in the heavily Democratic district virtually guarantees her a spot in Congress.

"Tonight, Missouri's 1st District has decided that an incremental approach isn't going to work any longer," Bush, whose activism began in the wake of the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, told supporters during a news conference after the race was called.

"It is historic that this year of all years, we're sending a Black, working-class single mother... all the way to the halls of Congress," Bush said. "Today, the people of St. Louis made a decision—from all corners of Missouri's 1st District, our communities have embraced a bold, fearless vision of real change where regular, everyday people like us can feel it. Today, the people won."

Bush's victory Tuesday came less than two years after her first attempt to defeat Clay with a grassroots campaign fell short by 20 points. Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, an advocacy group that backed Bush in both campaigns, said "this is a huge upset and another groundbreaking win for our movement against a corporate-backed political dynasty."

"She organized a movement through pepper spray and rioting police in the streets of Ferguson," said Rojas. "Her tenacity and unbreakable pursuit of justice is desperately needed in Congress today."

Bush's primary campaign against Clay—a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which his father co-founded in 1969—infuriated the Democratic establishment. Clay's allies, such as Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), dismissed Bush as "unknown, inexperienced person who touts left-leaning talking points" and attacked supporters of the progressive challenger.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) accused Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of committing "political trespassing" by endorsing Bush and campaigning on her behalf. As Politico reported, Sanders was "intimately involved in the race, helping Bush, a 2020 surrogate for his presidential campaign, with fundraising and joining her for livestream events."

Bush, who campaigned on a platform that included Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, also had the backing of recent New York Democratic primary winner Jamaal Bowman and the youth-led Sunrise Movement.

"Congratulations to Cori Bush, who didn't give up after 2018, and came back strong in 2020," Sunrise Movement tweeted. "Building people power takes time and hard work. She'll be a fierce advocate for the people and for justice in Congress."

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