Progressives had a lot to smile about as they woke up on Wednesday morning, after many of their preferred candidates won crucial races in the US midterm elections.
House progressives held on in closely fought races and appeared poised to expand their ranks, even as control of the lower chamber remained up for grabs on Wednesday. Dozens of progressive members of Congress secured re-election, including embattled incumbents like Angie Craig, whose Minnesota district was considered a toss-up.
As sitting lawmakers fended off Republican challenges, progressive House candidates like Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Greg Casar of Texas won their first congressional races. Lee’s victory was a particular point of pride for progressives, given that she previously won a hard-fought primary after the pro-Israel group Aipac spent millions trying to defeat her.
“The loser of the night is Aipac who revealed they were totally willing to sabotage Democratic chances of keeping the majority, set $4m on fire in an attempt to beat Summer Lee, and still lost,” Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible Project, said on Twitter.
Some new members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are set to make history as they prepare to join the House. The Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost, who organized with the American Civil Liberties Union and has called for universal healthcare on the campaign trail, will become the first Gen Z member of Congress. Becca Balint, who was endorsed by the progressive senator Bernie Sanders, will be the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ politician to represent Vermont in Congress.
In the battle for the Senate, the success of the Democrat John Fetterman caused celebration among progressives, even though the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor has rejected the label. Delivering a victory speech in the early hours of Wednesday, Fetterman underscored the need to expand healthcare access, crediting high-quality medical services with saving his life after suffering a stroke in May.
“Healthcare is a fundamental human right,” Fetterman told a cheering crowd in Pittsburgh. “It saved my life, and it should all be there for you when you ever should need it.”
Progressives did not achieve a perfect scorecard, as some of their preferred candidates lost to Republicans. The House candidate Michelle Vallejo fell short in Texas and the Senate hopeful Mandela Barnes was defeated by the Republican incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.
But overall, progressives notched important victories and pointed to their success as evidence of how candidates who embrace policies like a minimum wage increase and student debt relief can win in general elections.
“This election was about more than any single candidate or issue,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It was an existential uprising from voters who want Democrats to go bigger in protecting fundamental rights – democracy rights, abortion rights, economic rights and the right to exist on this planet.”
Progressive groups suggested the strategies of candidates like Fetterman and Frost could provide a playbook.
“With progressives growing their margins in Congress, regardless of the outcome of the remaining uncalled races, Democrats need to take note of the powerfully fought and won campaigns, driven by progressive ideals, that galvanized voters,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the progressive group Our Revolution.
“This sends a clear message and roadmap that going into 2024 Democrats must lean into the popularity of the progressive platform, not write it off.”
A number of progressives credited young voters with making the difference in key races. Progressive leaders like Sanders held rallies in the final days of the campaign to encourage young voters to turn out, after the constituency helped ensure congressional majorities in 2020. An ABC News exit poll found that voters between the ages of 18 and 29 favored Democrats by 28 points.
“Young people saved this election,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the youth climate group Sunrise Movement. “Two elections in a row, young people proved that Gen Z is a vital voting bloc that can and will be the bedrock of the Democratic party.”
As Democrats start to plan for the 2024 presidential race and congressional elections, Prakash insisted that addressing the concerns of young voters should be the party’s top priority.
“We turn out to fight for the issues our generation faces every day, like the impending climate crisis, protecting our reproductive freedoms and ending gun violence in our schools,” Prakash said. “The Democratic party needs to understand that if we want to win.”