Dreams of a leftward shift in American politics aren’t dead and buried, and Tuesday’s primary races prove it. Tentative victories for progressive candidates in New York and a close Democratic race in Kentucky are optimistic signs that the new class of progressive candidates to Congress did not end with the Squad or Sanders’s and Warren’s fizzled presidential prospects.
In New York, the results of three congressional primary races will likely usher in another wave of progressive Democrats to the House of Representatives next January. Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school teacher who won the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th Congressional District against longstanding incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel. While Engel was endorsed by “establishment” Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. James Clyburn, and Hillary Clinton, Bowman received the endorsements of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Another Ocasio-Cortez backed candidate, Mondaire Jones, is the prospective winner of New York’s 17th Congressional District primary. If elected, he will become the first openly gay black member of Congress. So, too, will New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres if he wins the primary for New York’s 15th district. (As of press time, both had pulled ahead in their respective races, but New York’s absentee-ballot count won’t be complete until June 30.)
And, predictably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her primary, to the disappointment of deluded right-wingers everywhere.
But while the aforementioned races are more or less a done deal, the results of a hotly contested Democratic primary race in Kentucky are less than certain, especially as covid-19 makes vote-by-mail the norm. Charles Booker, Kentucky’s youngest Black state lawmaker, is running against Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot, for U.S. Senate. The winner of the Democratic primary will compete with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November. McGrath ran as a safe, moderate alternative to McConnell, while Booker—a shameless Sanders-endorsing, universal healthcare-backing, Green New Deal-supporting lefty—ran as a bit of a wild card. But Booker gained momentum, as well as endorsements by Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Sanders, and Julián Castro. Elizabeth Warren even endorsed Booker after initially supporting McGrath, before Booker entered the race.
But voter suppression doesn’t give a shit about momentum.
While a mail-in voting option was instituted, in-person voting was still the preferred method for many—or the only option for those who did not receive their absentee ballot in time. But a shortage of poll workers led to a reduction of polling locations, leaving Kentucky’s largest cities with only one polling location. CNN reports that by midday, Lexington’s sole polling place had lines stretching for up to an hour. And toward the end of the day, those hoping to vote at the one polling place in Louisville—population 600,000—were stuck in hour-long lines just to park their car. Chaos erupted when the doors to the convention center where the voting was held were closed at 6 p.m., as mandated by state law. Would-be voters pounded on the doors, demanding entrance.
Booker published a tweet encouraging people to stay in line.
He also secured an injunction to keep the polls open for an additional half-hour in Louisville.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the race between McGrath and Booker is too close to call. McGrath is leading Booker 44 percent to 39.6 percent with 10 percent of of the vote accounted for, but a large number of mail-in ballots will not be counted for several days.
Whether this puts McGrath or Booker at an advantage isn’t clear, but what’s clear is this: the ideas that progressives like Sanders made popular—universal healthcare, free college, etc—are now popping up in traditionally conservative places, demonstrating once again that these stances are actually mainstream. Also clear: Congress can expect a boldly progressive uptick in its representatives—particularly its representatives of color—in 2021.
“I woke up with hope. I woke up inspired. I woke up humbled to just be a part of this moment. I woke up ready,” Booker tweeted Wednesday morning. “I hope you feel it too.”