There’s been a concerted effort over the past several months by D.C. insiders to suggest that progressives are the problem for a Democratic Party that is struggling to gain traction going into the 2022 midterm elections. They would have you believe that “Democrats’ Drive to the Left Threatens Their Grip on Power,” that Democrats are stuck in a “prison of their own ideological extremes,” and that “Democrats need a reckoning after misjudging the nation’s mood.” Or, as veteran Democrat consultant James Carville, who has been crusading against the left, recently put it, “only 11 percent of the Democratic Party is progressive. It’s the smallest part of the party. But the problem is they make 70 percent of the noise.”
If all anyone did was listen to the Democratic punditocracy, they’d think that progressives were so divisive, so destructive, so marginalized that they could never appeal to Democratic primary voters in a state like Texas. Yet, when the 2022 primary season began Tuesday, Texas Democrats in three key congressional districts bet on progressives who said that health care is a human right, challenged environmental racism, championed unions, defended reproductive rights, and spoke up for trans youth.
The Texas primary was the first test of where Democrats want their party to go in 2022. Progressives did not win every contest, but they showed their strength in high-stakes primaries that drew national attention. And, according to one of the biggest winners, Austin activist and former city council member Greg Casar, the signal was clear.
“$15 an hour won. Medicare for All won. The PRO Act won. Reproductive rights won. Immigrant rights won. The Movement for Black lives won. LGBTQIA+ rights won. Working families won,” said Casar, who scored a landslide victory in a competitive race for the Democratic nomination to an open seat representing a solidly Democratic district that stretches from Austin to San Antonio. The 32-year-old democratic socialist, who for the better part of a decade has been at the forefront of fights for economic justice and immigrant rights, took over 60 percent of the vote. “Our movement did it y’all,” he said, “and we’re not stopping here!”
Attacked for years by conservatives, and opposed in the primary by the centrist New Coalition Action Fund, Casar ran as an outspoken and unapologetic progressive. He campaigned with Representative Alexandriz Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) by his side, ran ads highlighting his endorsement by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and dominated a race that also featured a Democratic state legislator and a former San Antonio City Council member. “We are thrilled that Greg Casar won his race,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, who noted that Casar is “an organizer like us who ran on a Green New Deal.” Sanders declared, “Greg will be a progressive force for the people, ready to fight for the needs of the working class. I’m looking forward to working with him in Congress.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Congressman Greg Casar has a pretty nice ring to it!”
Another candidate backed by progressive Congress members and groups, 28-year-old immigration and human rights lawyer Jessica Cisneros. forced conservative Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar into a May 24 runoff election. Cisneros ran against Cuellar two years ago but failed to hold the incumbent below 50 percent—the runoff threshold. This time, with early endorsements from Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, unions, and progressive groups such as Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party, she nearly matched Cuellar’s vote. Now, she’s secured an opportunity to defeat an incumbent who has long been tied to corporate interests, who has opposed abortion rights, and who has often been referred to as “Trump’s favorite Democrat.”
“Today, we proved just how powerful our movement is and [that we] are ready to keep fighting for the future we deserve,” said Cisneros after her strong showing in the predominantly Latino district. “Together, we will take control back from Big Oil, private prisons, and Wall Street, and put it back where it belongs: with the people.”
“For years, South Texans have been demanding change,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “Now Jessica has the momentum to win the runoff against Cuellar and then take on the GOP’s agenda of division and greed with a vision for shared prosperity.”
Across Texas, in the Dallas-based 30th district, state Representative Jasmine Crockett, a 40-year-old former public defender who provided pro bono representation to Black Lives Matter activists, won a runoff spot after taking almost 50 percent of the vote in the contest to replace Congressional Progressive Caucus member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas). Crockett ran with strong backing from Johnson, as well as progressive groups such as the Working Families Party, Our Revolution, and Democracy for America. She won 48 percent of the primary vote in the predominantly Black and Hispanic district, while her runoff foe, Jane Hope Hamilton, got just 17 percent. Crockett, who traveled to Washington last summer with fellow Democratic legislators to protest Republican assaults on voting rights, has been an ardent advocate for criminal justice reform and one of the state chamber’s most outspoken defenders of abortion rights and LGBTQ rights.
“From voting rights, to jobs, healthcare and education, we can’t get discouraged in our fight for justice,” tweeted Crockett. “I took the fight from Texas to Washington as a State Representative, and I’ll do it again in Congress.”
“We don’t have to wonder what Jasmine will do in Congress, because we know what she’s done in the state legislature,” said Texas Working Families Party Organizing Director Mercedes Fulbright. “From fighting for voting rights to police reform, Jasmine has been a voice for the progressive change we need.”
The Texas primaries are just the beginning of a long primary season, and an even longer midterm election year. But it is fair to conclude from Tuesday’s results that progressives have far more traction with Democratic voters than D.C. insiders would have us believe. As the WFP said Wednesday, “Never doubt progressive power.”