Future of the newsletter
Last night Delaware cast the last primary votes of the season. Technically, there’s still Louisiana’s jungle primary mess in November, but there’s only a single Democratic race there, where incumbent congressman Cedric Richmond being challenged by a bunch of minor candidates. For all practical matters, the primary season is done. And what a season: some of the sweetest wins and most heartbreaking losses in politics, and no matter the results of any particular race, the feeling that for the first time in our lives there was an organized effort to reshape the Democratic Party at all levels of government.
But since we write about primaries, that leads to the question of what we do now. After over 80 weeks of coverage, we think it’s time for a break. The general election is happening soon (and has already started in some states),and we’ll let that play out. There are a handful of D vs. D contests happening concurrently with the presidential race: some top 2 contests and a few municipal races, so we may send out an update on those in October. We’re also planning on a primary preview for those. And we’d also like to put together a retrospective and send that out at some point. Regardless, this week marks the end of our regularly scheduled issues, until after the November general election.
But once that’s over, the political season begins anew. While there are some state legislative elections in 2021, the big story will be municipal races for a while. New York is the biggest, but plenty of cities will be selecting a new mayor next year. Then if Biden wins (looking pretty likely) we’ll probably have a lot of special elections after he puts politicians in his administration. We’ll have enough to cover.
So this is goodbye for now. That’s a weird sentence to type out after publishing this once (or twice, or more) a week since early 2019. We had a good time covering the somewhat-less-insurgent progressive movement this cycle, and we hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.
DE-Sen: Chris Coons won renomination, and effectively reelection, with 73% of the vote against progressive challenger Jess Scarane. (Turnout was up significantly; Scarane, despite getting just 27% of the vote, got more raw votes than Kerri Harris, who lost to Sen. Tom Carper 65-35 in 2018.) It’s a depressing result, and now we kinda have to hope Coons gets tapped for a position in the Biden administration so he’s not around to cause problems in the Senate. But it’s one of the only bad results of the night.
First, we’ll go through the races where the favorites won. In SD-01, Sarah McBride, a prominent trans activist, won in a landslide over her nearly-anonymous opponent, as expected; McBride, who is running in a very Democratic district, will be the first transgender state senator anywhere in the country. The first transgender state legislator ever, Virginia Del. Danica Roem, was elected for the first time just three years ago, and the all-but-certain first nonbinary state legislator, Oklahoma state representative nominee Mauree Turner, won their primary just three months ago. Transgender and nonbinary candidates are breaking down barriers at an astonishing pace, and it’s amazing to see. In SD-14, conservative Democratic incumbent Bruce Ennis held off his two challengers, but he only got a meager 53.5% of the vote, indicating serious vulnerability in his next election. In HD-04 and HD-10, incumbent state Reps. Gerald Brady and Sean Matthews easily turned back their challengers; interestingly, Brady, who is a moderate and obsessively dedicated to constituent service, got only 62% of the vote, while Matthews, a progressive who has had tough primaries in the past, got 81%. New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer comfortably held off a challenge from the police union’s candidate, Maggie Jones.
Next, the surprises, and the races where there weren’t favorites. In HD-08, Sherae’a Moore, the most progressive candidate, ended up winning fairly easily in a three-way primary for this open seat, with 42% to her opponents’ 32% and 26%. New Castle County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle, an awful conservative, held off her challengers Monique Johns (who may have been even more conservative) and Ciro Poppiti (who is a normal Democrat), 40%-32%-28%. For the mostly pointless office of Clerk of the Peace, machine- and police union-backed conservative Lisa Darrah narrowly defeated Aja Ajavon, 50.75% to 49.75%, which is unfortunate because it gives Darrah a launching pad to higher offices, offices that actually matter. (The Clerk of the Peace mostly handles marriage licenses; for some reason, Delaware elects those.) And in Wilmington’s City Council District 1, progressive Coby Owens came in third with 23% in a crowded primary, with appointed incumbent Linda Gray prevailing with just under 30%.
Now the really interesting stuff.
There was an unofficial progressive state legislative slate, composed of four primary challengers to establishment-backed incumbents; all were backed by some local progressive groups, as well as the Working Families Party. All four won. In SD-13, State Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride—the highest-ranking member of that body—lost to social worker Marie Pinkney, getting 48% to her 52%. In HD-07, Larry Lambert defeated state Rep. Raymond Seigfried, an establishment-friendly liberal, 59% to 41%. In HD-26, state Rep. John Viola narrowly lost to Madinah Wilson-Anton, 42.7% to 41.2%, a margin of just 43 votes—a thin margin, but enough to avoid a recount, as Delaware requires that the margin in a race be 0.5% or less for a recount to occur. And in HD-27, socially conservative state Rep. Earl Jaques lost badly, getting just 39% of the vote to Eric Morrison’s 61%; Jaques had attacked Morrison, who is gay and a drag performer, for hosting a drag show fundraiser for his campaign. The success of the slate means that not only will the state legislature welcome four progressive insurgents to its ranks—the state Senate has to find a new leader now, too. Despite Coons’s victory, the 2020 primary season ended with a clear rejection of the moderate Democratic establishment, and in Joe Biden’s backyard, no less. We've heard that House leadership is freaked the fuck out, and they absolutely should be.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney seemed like a shoe-in for re-election just a few months ago. Virginia Democrats see him as a rising star, potentially even a gubernatorial candidate in the near future. For years he’s received fawning coverage in the press. The only elected mayor who ran for a second term won it in 2012, 73% to 27%. (Direct mayoral elections only began in Richmond in 2004).
But Stoney, an ally of former governor Terry McAuliffe, has begun to face opposition to his left, and thank god for that. His developer giveaway deals have finally run into organized resistance, and he had to be pushed hard to take down statues of Jefferson Davis in the city. Black Lives Matter protests have become a sticking point in his governance of this Black-plurality city. First he declared a strict curfew to quell protests, and then let the police department run the show, tear gassing whoever they could, including a variety of politicians. He made some gestures in support the protests including the statues coming down and a mural going up, but after that he once again took the police’s side, repeating their “outside agitators” lines, defending mass arrests and brutality from the police department, and appointing an interim police chief who continued the path her predecessor was taking. Protestors have singled him out for his actions this summer as especially harmful.
Gradually, over the past few weeks, one of his challengers has emerged as the leading candidate among a fractured field: Alexsis Rodgers. Rodgers, a current state director for the domestic workers’ advocacy group Care in Action who had previously worked for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Planned Parenthood, is running on doing what Stoney won’t, including defunding (though she uses the term “divesting from”) the police to fund schools, building housing and the city’s land trust, and making public transportation free. In recent weeks, she’s earned endorsements from the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Sierra Club, and five members of the House of Delegates: Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lashrecse Aird, Danica Roem, Joshua Cole, and Dawn Adams. Though only one of the five (Adams) represents a portion of Richmond, Aird is a well-respected member who represents a district not too far from the city, and Carroll Foy is a gubernatorial candidate.
Unfortunately, Stoney holds several advantages over Rodgers. The first is money. While she put together $100,000 in a month after launching her campaign in June, Stoney has been on an absolute fundraising tear of corporate and establishment Democratic money, putting him at a cash advantage of over $100,000, Stoney already had more than that on hand, and has been outraising her 2:1 or 3:1 ever since. Another advantage is Richmond’s insane ward election system. The election is nonpartisan, and is held in two rounds. If, in round one, one candidate earns a plurality of the vote in 5 of the city’s 9 wards, they win outright. Otherwise, a runoff is held, and the majority vote getter wins. This makes the race both chaotic and often simply a plurality FPTP voting system, except the candidate doesn’t even have to get a plurality, which is why the presence of Councilmember Kim Gray in this race is so worrisome. Gray is a Stoney antagonist from his left, but has taken to criticizing him more for his ambition than his affinity for the police or lack of vision for the city. She also called the cops on a couple hundred Black Lives Matter protesters who showed up in front of her house and left notes on her gate, claiming she saw they were armed and planning on burning her house down. She’s still a popular figure with a decent amount of money and could very easily split the anti-Stoney vote in this race.
In the all-Dem general election between state Rep. Beth Doglio and former Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland, the stakes couldn’t be clearer, despite both candidates being Democrats: Doglio is a progressive with the support of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, labor unions, and the anti-Trump activist group Indivisible, while Strickland is a former chair of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce who oversaw that organization’s unsuccessful attempt to take down members of the Seattle City Council who wanted to tax the city’s big businesses (most notably Amazon, which is headquartered there and which funded much of the campaign to stop the taxes.) On Friday, Doglio was one of many candidates endorsed by the Sunrise Movement ahead of the November general election; all of Sunrise’s endorsees are great progressives who deserve your support—particularly if you’re less than enthusiastic about Joe Biden, but still want a campaign to devote your time and money to—but only Doglio faces another Democrat. Doglio was also backed by a local firefighters’ union on Monday, which could be especially valuable as the West Coast is, well, on fire, and public support for firefighters is especially intense. (It’s also noteworthy because firefighters’ unions are normally among the most conservative unions, meaning labor really doesn’t like Strickland.)