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 WarrenThe Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support The battle of two Cubas Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Ro Khanna MORE (I-Vt.) in 2020.

The upset win in Nebraska by Kara Eastman over former Rep. Brad AshfordJohn (Brad) Bradley AshfordNebraska Democrat Kara Eastman wins House primary to take on Don Bacon Lobbying world Justice Democrats endorses two progressives challenging Democratic incumbents 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.


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 ClintonTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Van Jones: A 'white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter' can pose a greater threat to black Americans than the KKK Taylor Swift slams Trump tweet: 'You have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence?' 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 TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points 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 BidenDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points Biden: 'We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us' 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 HarrisStates respond with force amid another night of protests Protesters knock down White House security barricades as tensions mount over Floyd's death The Memo: Trump ratchets up Twitter turmoil MORE (Calif.), 53, and Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker Sunday shows preview: Leaders weigh in as country erupts in protest over George Floyd death Warren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers 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.