On Tuesday, in competitive primaries from New Jersey to Iowa to California, voters chose bold progressive Democrats over more conservative and corporate Democrats, handing big victories to the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party.
Indeed, it was Progressive Super Tuesday. And it is the latest chapter in a larger story we’ve seen play out in American politics since the Wall Street economic wreck.
There’s a rising economic populist tide in America, sweeping into office leaders like Senator Warren, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a growing bloc of progressives in Congress.
Politicians used to debate whether to cut Social Security. But former New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman won a huge victory in the state’s Twelfth Congressional District primary, campaigning to “protect and expand Social Security.” She also advocated taxing millionaires to invest in education and jobs.
Her opponent, State Senator Linda Greenstein, campaigned for years as a moderate in an attempt to win Republican votes. When asked if she would be as progressive as outgoing Rep. Rush Holt, she replied, "Not sure." The bold progressive won by nearly 2 to 1.
We saw another populist win in Iowa. While it used to be popular for Democrats in rural states to run as corporate Blue Dogs, the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress has now been put down.
Instead, former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy won a big victory in a primary for the First Congressional District with TV ads proclaiming himself a “Bold Progressive.” He actively touted his endorsement from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (the organization we run), and ran on his record of raising the minimum wage and creating universal pre-K in Iowa.
In California’s Seventeenth Congressional District, big-money candidate Ro Khanna challenged progressive U.S. Representative Mike Honda from the right, starting the campaign with a million-dollar cash advantage. Honda joined Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, and others, in promising never to vote for cuts to Social Security benefits. He also led on a bill to expand Social Security benefits.
U.S. Election Watch reported that Khanna "refused to commit to expanding Social Security benefits, saying he wouldn’t rule out cutting them for future recipients." That did not work out so well. Honda crushed him, despite the corporate Democrat’s cash advantage and a lot of hype over hiring President Barack Obama’s field operations gurus as consultants.
And in the race to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman in California’s Thirty-Third Congressional District, progressives saw another victory. For much of the race, the leading Democrat was Wendy Greuel, a former Republican with a history of accepting campaign donations from Big Oil and other special interests.
But she lost to State Senator Ted Lieu, the son of poor immigrant parents, who stood up for the 99 percent. Lieu campaigned on raising worker wages and reducing student debt, consistent with the “Elizabeth Warren wing” economic populist agenda.
Progressive infrastructure was key to these victories. PCCC members made over 10,000 small-dollar donations to Honda, Watson Coleman, and Murphy—and made thousands of calls for their campaigns. These candidates also attended the PCCC’s national candidate trainings in Washington, received advice and site visits from the PCCC electoral team, and joined PCCC members for local and national media events on economic populism issues.
On the same night as these progressive primary victories, Democrats nominated populist Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley for the state's U.S. Senate seat, and populist Rick Weiland became the Senate nominee in South Dakota. PCCC members have already made more than 6,000 small-dollar donations to their campaigns. MoveOn, Democracy For America, Elizabeth Warren, and other national progressives are also targeting these races.
Some will say that the party is shooting itself in the foot by nominating “Elizabeth Warren wing” Democrats in key areas. Hardly.
Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in red, purple, and blue states—and on pretty much every economic issue of our time, voters overwhelmingly agree with the progressive position.
Voters in Iowa—whose party caucuses comprise the first nomination contest of the presidential campaign season—support expanding Social Security benefits by more than 2 to 1. The same is true in the red state of Kentucky. In Colorado and Texas, it’s 3 to 1.
The Simpson-Bowles plan to cut Social Security benefits really is bipartisan—meaning that both Republican and Democratic voters hate it. In red, blue, and purple states, no more than 15 percent of voters favor this idea. Politicians who favor cutting Social Security are not “moderate” or “centrist”; they are on the fringe.
Also super-popular are these positions: holding Wall Street bankers accountable, taxing the rich, government investment in jobs, Elizabeth Warren’s plan to reduce student debt, and other economic populist ideas.
This week’s Progressive Super Tuesday victories demonstrate the type of success Democrats can see throughout 2014—and beyond—if they choose to embrace Elizabeth Warren’s bold economic populism.