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3 November 2018

Blue Wave: will these progressive candidates shake up the midterms? In a way, they already have

A progressive Democratic “blue wave” isn’t only something we’re waiting for on election day. It’s already happened.

By Sophie McBain

In recent weeks, New Statesman America has profiled a series of first-time progressive candidates to try to give readers a sense of what the so-called “blue wave” could look like should the Democratic party retake Congress in the 6 November midterms.

The eight candidates we interviewed are remarkably youthful and diverse, and are running in districts across the country, from the east coast to the west, as far south as El Paso on the Mexican border, and everywhere in between. The youngest, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is only 29 years old. Five of them are women, reflecting the unprecedented number of female candidates running for Congress this year – 237 in total, all but 52 of them Democrats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Six of them are people of colour, four of whom were born to immigrant parents.

Rashida Tlaib, a lawyer born to Palestinian parents in Detroit, is poised to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress and is the only candidate profiled who is not running against a Republican. Veronica Escobar, a Mexican-American lawyer fighting Trump’s immigration policies from the border town of El Paso, Texas, is also running in a safe Democratic seat.

Most of the others, however, are testing the idea that progressive candidates can flip Republican seats. Two candidates, Kara Eastman and Dana Balter, are insurgents who beat establishment Democrats in the primaries and had to overcome initial scepticism from the Democratic Party leadership. Both are now supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list, which supports promising Democrats running in target Republican seats.

Campa-Najjar, a Mexican-Palestinian-American progressive running in California, was a long-shot candidate until the incumbent Republican Duncan Hunter was indicted for using over a quarter of a million dollars of campaign finances for personal expenses.

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All of them said they were running this year in reaction to, and in horror at, the Trump administration’s policies and rhetoric against women, immigrants and other minority groups. Half were also openly calling for a new leadership for the Democratic party, accusing the party leadership of being out-of-touch with ordinary voters and too beholden to corporate America.

Almost all were making healthcare reform a priority, with half calling for Medicare, the state-provided health insurance offered to some low-income Americans, to be extended to everyone. They can point to a disconnect between the political climate, which makes such a bill incredibly hard to pass, and public opinion, which is warming to the idea of a radical change to American healthcare. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank, found that 59 per cent of support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health plan.

The blue wave candidates are impressive fundraisers, with strong grassroots movements, many of whom can point to historic increases in turnout for their primary campaigns as evidence of renewed Democratic engagement in politics during the Trump era.

For all their anger and frustration at the current state of American politics they are buoyed by a spirit of optimism, a sense that they are part of a broader movement that will remake their country and its politics into somewhere more equal, more justice and more prosperous.

The candidates New Statesman America interviewed still have a tough race ahead of them. While Escobar and Tlaib are almost certain to win, only Andy Kim, a former Obama staffer in New Jersey and Eastman, a progressive social worker in Nebraska, are currently rated at toss-ups by the forecasters at FiveThirtyEight. The rest have the odds stacked against them, though polls are notoriously unreliable. That said FiveThirtyEight are currently estimating that the Democrats have a six in seven chance of winning control of the house.

If they do, Congress may finally be able to provide a check against the worst excesses of the Trump administration, and even those not elected will know they have formed part of a revival of Democratic activism.

In a sense, the blue wave isn’t only something we’re waiting for on election day. It’s already happened.

The candidates New Statesman America has profiled have already made their mark on their communities, offering them an alternative vision for the future, and an alternative picture of what leadership and strength looks like. They are already making ripples in the Democratic Party too, which will surely be questioning the extent to which it needs to tack left. And one suspects, and hopes, that the candidates that don’t win this time won’t be giving up.

You can find the whole series by following the links below:

The first in the series, on Lauren Underwood, the 31-year-old hoping to shake up Illinois politics, is here.

The second, on Veronica Escobar, the El Paso Democrat fighting Trump’s racist border policies, is here.

The third, on Kara Eastman, Nebraska’s insurgent progressive, is here.

The fourth, on Aftab Pureval, the 36-year-old making history in Ohio, is here.

The fifth, on Andy Kim, the former Obama aide running to protect Medicare in New Jersey, is here.

The sixth, on Dana Balter, the insurgent progressive taking on a Republican stronghold in upstate New York, is here.

The seventh, on Rashida Tlaib, the Detroit lawyer poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress, is here.

And the eighth, on Ammar Campa-Najjar, the 29-year-old Mexican-Palestinian-American shaking up California, is here.