August Was a Huge Month for Berniecrats

Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid is over—but as his campaign army deploys down-ballot, more and more progressive challengers are claiming victory.

Alex Ding September 2, 2016

David Zuckerman, Berniecrat, campaigns in Vermont (Zuckerman for Vermonet)

Now that the bright lights of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion have dimmed, the Sanders army is slow­ly but sure­ly deploy­ing down-ballot.

Berniecrats include not just progressive politicians taking up Sanders’ mantle, but also political outsiders heeding Sanders’ call-to-revolution.

Four­teen states held pri­maries in August. Accord­ing to the vol­un­teer-run site Berniecrats​.net, 210 can­di­dates — a fig­ure that includes local, state and con­gres­sion­al bids — were Berniecrats,” mean­ing they endorsed Bernie Sanders and a sim­i­lar pro­gres­sive plat­form. Rough­ly half claimed vic­to­ry. Since the pri­ma­ry sea­son began March 1, Berniecrats have won 238 of 379 races, or 62.8 percent.

The Bernie effect was on strong dis­play in Vermont’s August 9 pri­maries. Thir­ty-six of the 40 Berniecrats won.

Some, like David Zuck­er­man, pulled off deci­sive, ground­break­ing vic­to­ries. A straight-shoot­ing, trac­tor-dri­ving organ­ic farmer and state leg­is­la­tor, Zuck­er­man won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor. Zuck­er­man was up against two oppo­nents, includ­ing House Speak­er Shap Smith, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment dar­ling. Rights and Democ­ra­cy, a local pro­gres­sive advo­ca­cy group, called Zuckerman’s vic­to­ry a pro­gres­sive earth­quake to Vermont’s polit­i­cal establishment.”

Zuck­er­man got involved in elec­toral pol­i­tics in 1992, while a stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont. Two years ear­li­er, Bernie Sanders had won Vermont’s sin­gle U.S. House seat as an Inde­pen­dent. I was cyn­i­cal about the two-par­ty sys­tem of our elec­toral are­na,” says Zuck­er­man, and it was Bernie who actu­al­ly inspired me to engage in the polit­i­cal process.”

In ear­ly August, Sanders endorsed Zuck­er­man for the No. 2 seat in the state. David is one of the out­stand­ing mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture,” said Sanders, adding that Zuck­er­man has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a fight­er who is not afraid to stand up to the big mon­ey inter­ests.” Like Sanders — and unlike his two oppo­nents — Zuck­er­man refused to take cor­po­rate cam­paign contributions.

One of the most-her­ald­ed Bernie­crat vic­to­ries came August 2, when Wash­ing­ton state vot­ers deci­sive­ly picked Prami­la Jaya­pal in the pri­ma­ry race for Washington’s 7th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict. She’s expect­ed to hand­i­ly win the gen­er­al election.

Jaya­pal was among 15 Sen­ate and House can­di­dates across 12 states, as well as eight state leg­is­la­ture can­di­dates across sev­en states, who received finan­cial back­ing from the Sanders cam­paign. Not all sailed to vic­to­ry — House can­di­date Eric King­son of New York and Lucy Flo­res of Neva­da lost their June pri­maries, and Florida’s chal­lenger to Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, Tim Cano­va, lost on August 30. But August was a good month over­all for high-pro­file Sanders endorsees. Russ Fein­gold won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nod for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen­ate seats, and Paul Clements won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry for Michigan’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al District.

You betcha, Minnesota

A for­mer refugee from Soma­lia made his­to­ry in Min­neapo­lis-St. Paul when she beat out a long-serv­ing leg­is­la­tor in the state’s August 9 pri­ma­ry. Ilhan Omar, 33, ably defeat­ed incum­bent Phyl­lis Kahn, who has rep­re­sent­ed the dis­trict for 44 years. The his­toric vic­to­ry made Omar the first Soma­li Mus­lim-Amer­i­can woman to win a state pri­ma­ry in Min­neso­ta. Favored to win in Novem­ber, she is on the brink of becom­ing the nation’s first Soma­li-Amer­i­can lawmaker.

Sanders did not for­mal­ly endorse Omar until after the pri­maries, but she still ben­e­fit­ed from a Bernie boost, says her cam­paign man­ag­er, Daniel Anton Cox. The precincts Omar won had espe­cial­ly high turnout com­pared to 2014, which Cox attrib­ut­es in part to the fact that so many peo­ple, espe­cial­ly young peo­ple, cau­cused [for Bernie] for the first time.”

Ilhan waged a cam­paign that isn’t typ­i­cal,” says Cox. She built bridges between com­mu­ni­ties, and did things that aren’t part of the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of what is possible.”

Omar has been an advo­cate and orga­niz­er in Min­neapo­lis for years in a dis­trict that includes East African immi­grants, col­lege stu­dents and long-term res­i­dents. She helped to win paid parental leave for City of Min­neapo­lis employ­ees, pass a city ordi­nance extend­ing busi­ness hours dur­ing Ramadan and ban envi­ron­men­tal­ly tox­ic con­tain­ers, accord­ing to her cam­paign. On June 20, she walked a pick­et line with the Min­neso­ta Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion (MNA).

MNA was one of a num­ber of local unions and pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions to endorse Omar, along with AFSCME Local 8, the Min­neso­ta Young Demo­c­ra­t­ic-Farmer-Labor Par­ty, and Out­front Min­neso­ta. At the fore­front was Take Action Min­neso­ta, which turned out more than 140 vol­un­teer shifts to help elect Omar.

The eco­nom­ic and racial jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion has become a pow­er play­er in Min­neso­ta elec­tions over the past decade. Dan McGrath, Take Action’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, is hope­ful that the momen­tum from the Sanders cam­paign can spur change, but stress­es the need for infra­struc­ture that lasts beyond the elec­tion sea­son: The ques­tion for Bernie is, how’s it going to endure? In the case of Ilhan’s race, because Take­Ac­tion is a per­ma­nent year-around orga­ni­za­tion, we know the activists that con­nect­ed with our cam­paign are going to stay involved. … We want to pass leg­is­la­tion for paid sick days to [ben­e­fit] 1 mil­lion work­ers in our state, as well as to restore vot­ing rights for all peo­ple on pro­ba­tion and parole — some 47,000 people.”

Look out, Connecticut

On August 9, in Con­necti­cut, Sanders back­ers claimed vic­to­ry in 8 of the 9 state pri­maries in which they ran. Sev­en were run­ning for state rep­re­sen­ta­tive seats, and one, Gary Hold­er-Win­field, for state senate.

Among the win­ning can­di­dates was Joshua Elliott, 31. Elliott was first politi­cized when he vol­un­teered for the Sanders cam­paign in May 2015. After Sanders lost the Con­necti­cut pri­ma­ry in April, the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty (WFP) encour­aged Elliott to run in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry for the Ham­den, Conn., state house seat. (In Con­necti­cut, whose elec­toral rules favor a two-par­ty sys­tem, WFP uses a fusion” mod­el, back­ing pro­gres­sive can­di­dates in the major-par­ty pri­maries.) Elliott agreed, and WFP sup­port­ed him with can­di­date train­ing and grass­roots canvassing.

Elliott told the Con­necti­cut Mir­ror that his cam­paign began with a group of Sanders vol­un­teers who want­ed to find anoth­er way to pur­sue Bernie-style pro­gres­sivism. Like Sanders, Elliott says his suc­cess is as lit­tle about me as our team can pos­si­bly make it.”

Slow­ly, sure­ly, progress

It’s hard to say whether 238 pri­ma­ry vic­tors, out of hun­dreds of state and local races, will make a mark on our nation­al polit­i­cal land­scape. Not all, of course, will win in November.

How­ev­er, two sta­tis­tics are telling: Accord­ing to Berniecrats.net’s tal­ly, 59 per­cent of Berniecrats are not incum­bents, and 17 per­cent are first-time can­di­dates. That means that Berniecrats include not just pro­gres­sive incum­bents tak­ing up Sanders’ man­tle, but also polit­i­cal out­siders heed­ing Sanders’ call-to-rev­o­lu­tion. Since June, some 11,000 Sanders sup­port­ers have signed up to run for office or vol­un­teer for Sanders sup­port­ers who do. The pool of sup­port for pro­gres­sive chal­lengers will grow as groups like Our Rev­o­lu­tion (the Sanders campaign’s new down-bal­lot oper­a­tion), Brand New Con­gress, People’s Action, MoveOn​.org, WFP and Democ­ra­cy for Amer­i­ca ramp up operations.

Qui­et­ly, it seems, the polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion has begun.

Alex Ding is a Sum­mer 2016 edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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