Progressive rise is good news for Sanders, Warren

Progressive rise is good news for Sanders, Warren
© Greg Nash

Momentum and excitement in the Democratic Party is building on the left, a development that could benefit progressive candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenUnited Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Omar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' Seven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersOmar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' Seven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa Democrats go all out to court young voters for 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) in 2020.

The upset win in Nebraska by Kara Eastman over former Rep. Brad AshfordJohn (Brad) Bradley AshfordJustice Democrats endorses two progressives challenging Democratic incumbents White men now the minority in pool of House Democratic candidates: analysis Pelosi sees defections from an unusual quarter — the left MORE in a Democratic House primary sent a jolt of energy to liberal House candidates across the country, and is also being seen as a sign for the Democratic presidential race.

“There are two things going on: Voters want change and the progressive candidates represent change,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

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She said there is a “great deal of frustration” on the left that a moderate approach on politics hasn’t worked and hasn’t resulted in policy change in Washington.


“So a lot of people are saying, ‘Let’s try progressive policies for a change,’ ” she said.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon described the evolving Democratic politics as a manifestation of the 2016 primary between Sanders and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats go all out to court young voters for 2020 Pelosi: Whistleblower complaint 'must be addressed immediately' Election meddling has become the new normal of US diplomacy MORE.

While Sanders lost the Democratic nomination to Clinton, “he won the hearts and souls of rank-and-file Democrats,” Bannon said. 

Democratic primary voters also love the progressive policies that Sanders is pushing, including a single-payer “Medicare for all” health system and a program to guarantee every American a job.

Ashford, who was backed by Washington Democrats, found himself on the wrong side of the left vs. center battle in Nebraska and of an anti-establishment wave building in both parties.

“[He] was on the wrong end of both trends,” Bannon said. “The hostility toward the political establishment that elected Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE is alive and well in the midterms. It will still be around in 2020.” 

Ashford’s loss isn’t the only sign that the Democratic energy is with the left.

A Suffolk University poll out earlier this month found that Warren, 68, was the most popular potential 2020 candidate in New Hampshire, with 25.7 percent. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUnited Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' Omar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' MORE, 75, came in second at 20 percent, while the 76-year-old Sanders, in another positive sign for progressivism, came in third place with 12.5 percent. 

At the Center for American Progress’s Ideas Conference in Washington last week, the program built toward a climactic speech by Warren, who was received like the main event at a music festival. Warren appealed to the crowd by discussing a policy platform and calling the Democratic Party the “party of ideas.” 

Sanders — who allies have said wants to run in 2020 — has been crisscrossing the country to tout his policies on “protecting working families.” 

Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSeven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa Fracking ban could have unintended consequence of boosting coal Poll: Voters back Medicare expansion, keeping private insurance MORE (Calif.), 53, and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSeven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa Iowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Booker aide sounds alarm about campaign's funding MORE (N.J.), 49, two other possible candidates in 2020, are also working to build their brands with the left.

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who worked for Clinton, cautioned that if Democrats are going to run a 50-state strategy in 2020, they’ll have to appeal to a wide range of voters and not just the left.

“We can talk about policies in a way that are more inclusive without going so far to the left that we can’t win elections in Midwestern or rural areas,” he said. 

The fractious 2016 race has left bitterness between centrists and the left.

Many Clinton allies say Sanders played a role in Clinton’s defeat, and former aides to the Democratic nominee still sneer at Sanders. 

On Monday, Dan Schwerin, Clinton’s speechwriter who helped write her book “What Happened,” took to Twitter to pile on after a news report called Sanders’s grass-roots group “flailing.” 

“Brutal,” Schwerin wrote. 

Last week, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill also gave short shrift to Sanders. 

“I too want to see free college become a reality,” Merrill wrote on Twitter. “But I’ve done no more legislatively to accomplish that than Bernie Sanders. Thus, the title of my book will not include the word ‘win’ in it.” 

Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member, said the infighting isn’t as bad as it seems.

“I don’t see a party divided on philosophy,” Zimmerman said. “There are differences, but I don’t think they’re divisions. There’s a real focus on winning.” 

Niall Stanage contributed.