SPONSORED:

Wins by young progressives start reshaping establishment

The left wing of the Democratic Party may have lost the war over the party's presidential nomination, but its members are quietly winning battles in states and cities across the country.

Progressive candidates have knocked off incumbent officeholders in places such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico in recent weeks in elections that are marking the end of an older generation of the political establishment.

Those elections may be a preview of the rest of the primary season, when long-serving Democrats find themselves the targets of well-organized campaigns to oust them. On Tuesday, voters head to the polls in New York, where at least two veteran lawmakers — Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelIs Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches MORE (D) and Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeLawmakers call for small business aid at all levels of government The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Top tech executives testify in blockbuster antitrust hearing MORE (D) — face serious threats from progressive rivals.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the winners identify themselves as democratic socialists. Others stick with calling themselves progressives. But virtually all of them are younger than the incumbents they have beaten, a sign in many cases that the millennial generation is beginning to make its mark on the Democratic Party.

At least four Pennsylvania Democratic state legislators lost their seats in last week's primary. Two of the winning challengers in the Philadelphia area scored endorsements from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden endorses Texas Democratic House candidate Julie Oliver Ocasio-Cortez rolls out Twitch channel to urge voting Calls grow for Democrats to ramp up spending in Texas MORE (I-Vt.). In Pittsburgh, Emily Kinkead, a progressive making her first run for office, ousted state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (D), the brother of the city's former mayor.

Two other Democratic incumbents trail their rivals by margins narrow enough that they could be reversed as more ballots are counted.

"I consider myself to be a proud progressive," said Amanda Cappelletti, who beat a sitting state senator to claim the Democratic nomination in a Philadelphia-area district. "I wanted to figure out the best way that I could serve and help people, and this would be a good opportunity to use my skills."

In New Mexico, insurgent progressive challengers ousted five moderate and conservative Democrats, including state Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen and state Sen. John Arthur Smith, the chairman of the Finance Committee.

In Washington, democratic socialist Janeese Lewis George upset Councilman Brandon Ward (D), a close ally of and former staffer to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). Two progressive candidates are leading the race to replace disgraced former councilman Jack Evans in a race that remains too close to call.

ADVERTISEMENT

The wins for progressive candidates come two years after the first round of Sanders-supporting candidates such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarHillicon Valley: Threatening emails raise election concerns | Quibi folds after raising nearly B | Trump signs law making it a crime to hack voting systems Ocasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream Veterans launch pro-law enforcement super PAC with battlegrounds ad buys MORE (D-Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on Twitch livestream Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Mich.) came to prominence by ousting incumbents or establishment-backed rivals. Progressives claimed sweeping wins in Boston in 2019, when for the first time a majority of the City Council was made up of nonwhites and women.

Advances in technology have allowed progressive candidates to make inroads in big cities once dominated by party bosses, said Waleed Shahid, who directs communications for Justice Democrats, a progressive group that backs insurgent challengers.

"The internet is defeating these political machines. Where 20 years ago you would have to have the blessing of local party leaders just to get on the ballot, now you can have a good social media operation and leapfrog the party leadership and establishment networks," Shahid said.

This year, another progressive, marketing consultant Marie Newman ousted Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois's Democratic primary in March.

More surprises are likely ahead. After Ocasio-Cortez upset Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyHillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump visits Kenosha | Primary day in Massachusetts | GOP eyes Minnesota as a battleground MORE (D) in 2018, progressives have made a point to go after Engel and Clarke.

Reps. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTop House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban Progressives look to flex their muscle in next Congress after primary wins MORE (D-N.Y.) opted to retire rather than face what would have been almost certain primary challenges. In September, Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Kudlow confident that Trump can 'round up' Senate GOP behind coronavirus relief deal | US deficit spikes to record .1T Top Democrat: Tax credit expansions must be in next coronavirus relief package Treasury withheld nearly M from FDNY 9/11 health program MORE (D-Mass.) will face off against Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse (D), who has proved an adept fundraiser.

The primary challenges are coming as a younger, more progressive millennial generation becomes a potent force in politics.

Surveys show the millennial generation is more liberal than preceding generations, and as it moves into early middle age, it is accounting for a larger slice of the electorate — especially in larger cities, which have disproportionate numbers of millennial voters.

"The millennial generation is historically liberal. There's never been a generation, particularly of white voters, that has been as consistently Democratic," said Sean McElwee, who heads Data for Progress. "More and more, the typical always-shows-up voter is more progressive. They are urban professionals who are settling down, having kids and are not becoming conservative but instead are voting progressively in Democratic primaries."

Though Ocasio-Cortez has become the symbol of the rising generation of progressive officeholders, the movement is increasingly looking to down-ballot races both as an avenue for making policy changes at the state level and as a way to build a bench for the future.

"You can feel a change in the focus that grassroots progressives have put on some of these local races, really since 2016. I think part of it came from a recognizing, waking up from the Obama years just how much Democrats had lost," said Neil Sroka, who directs communications for Democracy for America and also won a city council seat himself. "The Trump moment exposed the ways in which cities and local offices could be a real buttress against a government that was 100 percent in the control of right-wing Republicans. I think that there has been a real awakening."

Sanders's two presidential campaigns served as one catalyst for the new round of progressive challengers but so too has police violence against unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and the New York City borough of Staten Island, Shahid said. Some of the most significant offices in which progressive insurgents have ousted long-serving Democrats have been in district attorneyships in places such as Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Suffolk County, Mass.

ADVERTISEMENT

The progressive candidates who are leaping into races across the country increasingly have Justice Democrats, Democracy for America, Data for Progress, and a host of other local and national organizations to support them. Those groups have helped first-time candidates overcome what in previous years would have been insurmountable hurdles.

"You can't do it alone. You have a team, and when you're passing legislation, it's about the greater we," Cappelletti said. "Many of these progressives probably have that same mentality that this is a greater us and we moment."

--This report was updated on June 14 at 9:36 a.m.