2017 may be the year of the 'Berniecrats'
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After Saturday’s display of force at anti-Trump marches across the country, pink knits are as poised to be the uniform of a new political force, in much the same way red baseball caps were last year.  

All eyes may be on 2018 as the year in which the Democrats can make a comeback.  But with a motivated base, why should Democrats wait?

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Internally, there is still a question of which Democratic faction can cash in on this momentum, and whether voters will follow the liberal grassroots movement personified in Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE and his acolytes, or if they will stick with those favored by the establishment and machine bosses.  

 

This question isn’t new. But while all eyes are on the 2018 midterms, nothing is stopping Berniecrats from making a play now.  Not to mention, victories in 2017 would justify their demand to drive the agenda the following year.

This dilemma was even somewhat evident at the Women’s March on Washington itself.  The crowds present clearly love Bernie’s message and respect him as the progressive leader.  That’s indisputable.  But even if the ideology of the marchers was more Sanders, the organization and logistics were nearly all establishment.  

Among those sponsoring the march were the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the 1199SEIU healthcare workers union; the ACLU; NARAL Pro-Choice America; Emily’s List; Planned Parenthood; and the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) — all of which are major players in the DNC and entrenched in the mainstream Democratic circles.

So how will the marchers actually vote when they head to the polls?  If given a choice, will they follow ideology, or will they go with the candidates who come through the established ranks?

2017 provides few nationally significant races with which to judge, and if we look back to 2016, we see that Bernie’s influence did not bear fruit.

Debbie Wasserman-Shultz easily beat Tim Canova in last year’s title bout between an establishment candidate and a Berniecrat, despite the latter’s impressive following and fundraising after Sanders’s full-throated backing.

Equally disappointing results came from Nevada in June of 2016, even as the Sanders campaign hit its crescendo.  His endorsees lost three of three contests, with his most prominent pick, Lucy Flores, being crushed by an opponent supported by Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights MORE, the party bosses, and the state’s largest unions.  

2017 may prove to be different.  

This month, Sander’s supporters, operating through an organization called Our Revolution, overwhelmed the California Democratic Party caucuses and secured enough seats to control the chairmanship of the largest party organization outside of Washington.

Now, Our Revolution and groups like it are backing candidates, and many running for office are eagerly seeking them out.

One such candidate is State Senator Vincent Forts, who is running for Atlanta’s mayoralty and potentially faces a half-dozen Democrats, including the former mayor.

For Sanders and his flock, Forts is the only person with true progressive bona fides.  The Vermont senator gave his endorsement and recalled how Forts paid a “hefty price” for flipping from Clinton to become one of his staunchest southern surrogates.  This caused a rift between Forts and the state’s establishment, which he now will face in the election.

In New Jersey, Bernie’s former state chairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, in what may be the most hotly contested race in the country.

“Assemblyman Wiz,” as he’s known, will have a difficult primary before attempting to win back the governorship from the GOP. But if he is Superman to Bernie’s progressive acolytes, then his Democratic opponent is surely kryptonite.  

Wisnieswki’s primary competition is Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs banker who served as the DNC’s finance chair and a former U.S. ambassador to Germany.  He spent much of 2016 raising money for Hillary and got himself mentioned in Wikileaks, all while collecting the endorsements of Democratic county bosses in the state’s machine-driven political realm.

It’s unclear whether Sanders will endorse his ally, but like Forts, Wisniewski also paid a price when he was booted from New Jersey’s delegation to the DNC.

Still, the real race every observer is focused on is who will take the reins at the DNC.  This, perhaps more than any others, is truly a contest of proxies between Berniecrats and establishment Democrats.   

Although he has not received their endorsements, Tom Perez has become the candidate of those aligned with both former President Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE in the race for DNC chair.

His chief opponent is Keith Ellison, who has the backing of both Bernie and the scores of groups within his movement, as well as a significant amount of members of Congress who are hoping to tap into the energy of the ascendant left for themselves.

Still, the only electorate for this race is the 447 members of the DNC and it is uncertain how many will remain loyal to the old guard.  

The other problem for Berniecrats is that this is more a battle of horse-trading in smoke-filled rooms, rather than the grassroots organizing at which they excel.

While we have to wait months before the Atlanta and New Jersey elections, this fight for DNC chair is imminent.  

If Berniecrats can notch up two or three wins, Democrats would be foolish not to embrace the left wing of the party going into 2018.  If the movement comes up shot, the establishment has a clear case as to why they should remain in charge going forward.  

2017 may prove to be a more significant year for the left than it seems.

Joseph Borelli is a New York City council member, Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. He has been published in the NY Daily News and appears on CNN, Fox News, and BBC. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC


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