Editor’s Note: Karine Jean-Pierre is the senior adviser and national spokeswoman for MoveOn. She is also a lecturer in international and public affairs at Columbia University. The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The path to the 2020 presidential election begins with the 2018 midterms. And the message most likely to be sent by the 2018 races is that 2020 will bring the most progressive, populist Democratic candidates we’ve ever seen – and young people and people of color will lead the way.
Ayanna Pressley’s win this week stunned political insiders, defied all polling and upset the political status quo. Pressley, a black Boston City Council member, took on Mike Capuano, a 10-term incumbent in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’$2 7th Congressional District. She has never served in Congress before, and Congress has never seen a black woman represent Massachusetts before.
She won. And she’s not alone. Across the country, 2018 has seen a decisive and diverse wave of victories for progressive, populist candidates.
Just look at Andrew Gillum, who recently clinched the Democratic nomination for Florida’s gubernatorial election. He was an underdog who edged out a win not by shying away from progressive populism but by embracing it. He endorsed single-payer health care, raising the minimum wage to $15, common-sense gun laws and raising taxes on corporations to fund education, to name just a few issues. And he won not only because he took progressive stances, but also because he took important steps to reach voters that some candidates often don’t bother with. And other gubernatorial candidates such as Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Maryland’s Ben Jealous are following the same successful playbook.
Gillum’s strategy may be specific to 2018, but it’s not unique in 2018. Across the country, the candidates running – and winning – are following the same formula. While we are weeks away from the 2018 midterm elections, the message for potential 2020 hopefuls is already becoming clear: Run progressive, run unapologetically and run hard. Make use of mobile and social media, invest in organizing and ensure your campaign is investing and mobilizing in the communities who form the base of the Democratic Party – instead of focusing on wealthy donors and cultivating corporate interests.
In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic-Socialist Latina organizer from Queens, ousted Joe Crowley, a Democratic incumbent in party leadership. Her bold platform differed more from Crowley’s than Pressley’s did from Capuano’s. She came out in support of “Medicare for All,” raising the minimum wage and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But her campaign strategy was even bolder than her platform: She targeted young people and people of color, two groups traditionally left behind by politics, and got them to the polls to put her over the edge.
Though Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive win is the most discussed this cycle, such victories are being repeated in primaries and elections across the country.
In Detroit, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, is poised to become one of the first two Muslim women in Congress after winning the Democratic primary in the state’s 13th Congressional District; she will run unopposed in November.
In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, a remarkably progressive Minnesota state representative, just won her primary to become the Democratic candidate for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. If she wins, alongside Tlaib, she’ll be one of the first two Muslim women in Congress. She’ll also be the first Somali-American in Congress.
In Illinois, there’s Chuy García, a progressive Latino running to represent the state’s 4th Congressional District; in Missouri, public defender and Ferguson City Councilman Wesley Bell unseated St. Louis County’s seven-time incumbent prosecuting attorney who mishandled the Michael Brown investigation – and he did it running on a bold criminal justice reform platform; in Tennessee, Tami Sawyer won a progressive campaign to serve as Shelby County commissioner, District 7, and in Pennsylvania, Helen Tai flipped a longtime red state House seat to blue.
Their races stretch from coast to coast, from urban areas to rural towns, and from national bids to state runs – but there’s more that unites these candidates than separates them. And what’s turning out voters and winning elections across the board in 2018 is both strong progressive values and bold progressive candidates who reflect the communities they’ll represent.
Because progressivism isn’t just about the policies we support, it’s about the people we support, too.
The candidates winning in 2018 know this. They’re running races to get young people and people of color to the polls, which many campaigns have historically under-invested in, while overspending on ads on TV. The candidates winning in 2018 are running races that talk about the policies young people and people of color care about – such as Medicare for All and abolishing ICE – instead of running away from them. And for the first time in a long time, young people and people of color have candidates whose values match their own and who value their votes.
Donald Trump was able to make it to the White House in part because he campaigned as an outsider running on anti-establishment “drain the swamp” rhetoric. Of course, Trump and Republicans in Congress have done anything but drain the swamp – instead, they’ve seemingly done everything they can to put corporate and wealthy interests first, and thanks to them, Washington is swampier than ever.
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But there’s an irony: One effect of the Trump presidency may ultimately be a drained swamp, not by Trump’s hand, but by a fierce, mobilized, energized “resistance” movement that turns out to elect a new generation of diverse, inspiring, progressive leaders to office. These new leaders can stand up to the establishment, clean house when it comes to corruption and refocus the government’s attention where it belongs: on the well-being of the American people – all of the American people.