How Progressive Candidates of Color Are Building Winning Coalitions

How Progressive Candidates of Color Are Building Winning Coalitions

Candidates like Charles Booker and Jamaal Bowman are bringing together liberal white voters and voters of color, a dynamic seen this week in races in Kentucky and New York.

New York Times – By Giovanni Russonello – June 26, 2020

Just last month, it looked as if Amy McGrath would coast to the Democratic Senate nomination in Kentucky. A moderate former fighter pilot with strong backing from the party establishment, she had raised over $40 million, far more than all her competitors combined. From her TV ads, you would have thought she was already running against Senator Mitch McConnell in the general election.

But then came weeks of protests for racial justice, and a flush of new energy on the party’s left wing. Charles Booker, a state legislator endorsed by the likes of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had been campaigning on a platform of “Medicare for all,” the Green New Deal and bold police reform; he surged in the weeks before Tuesday’s election.

On Thursday, after a new batch of preliminary results were released, Mr. Booker held a 3.5-percentage-point lead over Ms. McGrath, although most absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet and we may not know who won the race for days.

As swift and dramatic as Mr. Booker’s rise has been, it’s part of an ongoing trend in Democratic politics — one that’s been a long time in the making, according to polling on political attitudes.

In congressional races across the country this year, candidates of color are assembling coalitions that bring together liberal white voters and voters of color, picking up where Mr. Sanders’s unsuccessful presidential run left off and building support in areas where he was never fully able to.

“The task going forward for progressives is combining the African-American and Latino base with white progressives in increasingly diverse districts,” Sean McElwee, the founder of the left-leaning polling firm Data for Progress, said in an interview.

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“The way progressives win is to find progressive candidates of color who can build trust with voters of color and then can win over white progressives,” he said.

That dynamic played out this week in congressional races around New York, where three black progressives — Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres — appeared on track to defeat their more moderate foes.

Mr. Bowman, a middle school principal who campaigned on a racial-justice platform, held a wide lead Friday morning over Eliot L. Engel, a 30-year incumbent. Mr. Engel is white; his district, which includes parts of the Bronx and nearby suburbs, is about one-third black, one-third white and one-quarter Latino.

Mr. Bowman held decisive leads in both Westchester County, which is predominantly white, and the Bronx, which is heavily black and Hispanic.

“The interests are aligned,” Mr. Bowman said in an interview, referring to his varied racial constituencies. “They are aligned more urgently because of the moment that we are living in, but even prior to the moment, we all centered this work in our common humanity and our values around equality and justice for everyone.”

Voters of color and progressive ideas
For years, polling shows, black voters have been broadly supportive of liberal policies such as universal government health care and free tuition to public colleges. That’s only becoming more true as millennials and members of Generation Z account for an increasing share of the electorate.

Black voters are among the most likely to name health care as a key voting issue, according to PRRI polling.

And data suggest that as some particularly left-wing ideas move from the party’s fringe into its mainstream, they are being carried there by a coalition of voters of color and some white progressives.

Among people of color younger than 45, fully 81 percent expressed support for the Green New Deal, according to an aggregate of NPR/PBS/Marist College polling from last year provided to The New York Times.