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Podcast | Race to the White House: Left-wing takes flight

V Nivedita | Updated on June 27, 2020 Published on June 26, 2020

Progressives in the Democratic party won key contests in the primaries held recently. How will these wins impact the presidential elections?

Joe Biden is having a fantastic week – he is leading against President Donald Trump by 14 points nationally, he swept the polls in New York and Kentucky and he raised $11 million this week. So, it all great in the Biden campaign? Here’s a check in, on this week’s episode of “Race to the White House”.

Biden has won more than 67% of the votes in New York and 51% in Kentucky, but he has a major problem: left wingers in his party are shaking things up. Several progressives, like newbie Jamaal Bowman and the more established Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have won key contests in New York while in Kentucky, Charles Booker is giving a tough fight to party favourite Amy McGrath.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who ran as a centrist, to win a Democratic primary election for New York's 14th Congressional District. This is the second time she is winning the primary for the seat – she won it in 2018, by defeating veteran Democrat Joe Crowley. Back then, the win was considered a fluke, but now AOC is looking to cement her position as a serious progressive in the party.

Jamaal Bowman, a 44-year-old former Bronx school principal, is on track to defeat Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district.  Engel is a seasoned politician, has served in Congress for more than 30 years. He is also the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. More importantly, he secured the endorsements of Hillary Clinton, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority whip Jim Clyburn, Adam Schiff and a whole host of members of the party establishment. Even the Congressional Black Caucus chose to endorse him, over Bowman, a young, black progressive. Bowman has captured a little more than 60% of the vote, compared to Mr Engel's 34%, according to data.

Another major win comes with Mondair Jones winning New York’s 17th Congressional District, beating State Senator David Carlucci and former Department of Defence official Evelyn Farkas. Carlucci is often caucuses with state republicans while Farkas is famous for her role in the “Russiagate” investigation.

The democratic primary in Kentucky will decide who will take on Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. The key contenders are retired Marine lieutenant colonel Amy McGrath and state Rep. Charles Booker. McGrath has raised over $40 million for this election, is backed by the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and many unions. While Booker has the endorsements of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Bernie Sanders, and the Louisville Courier-Journal. He also has the backing of former Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Tom Steyer, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. The election here is too close to call with more than 50% of absentee ballots still uncounted, but Booker has a slight lead at the time of recording.

Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed Biden, raised over $750,000 for congressional and local candidates running in Tuesday’s primaries, underscoring how he’s retained his financial prowess even after leaving the presidential race. The haul indicates that Sanders’s donor network and email list are still potent forces in down-ballot races despite his unsuccessful White House bid. But so far, at least, he hasn’t leveraged it to raise money for Biden, drawing criticism from some Democrats. 

Here’s my take on this week’s events: It seems that the voters are increasingly drawn to reformist candidates who pledge to support Medicare-for-All, Green New Deal and more protections for social security. We already know large sections of the country’s youth support the progressive agenda and are unsure about their support to either of the candidates.  We know that Trump’s approval rating is falling, and Biden has a favourability problem. To win the elections, it seems like one of them will have to embrace the progressive agenda.

Looking left does not seem to be the case for Biden – he is trying to reach across the aisle trying to rope in ‘Never Trumpers’ and conservative Republicans who are disenfranchised with Trump.

However crazy it may seem Trump could be the one who embrace these ideas – remember he ran on a populist campaign in 2016. He has already provided $1200 per family as COVID relief and extended the paycheck protection plan. He even signed an executive order on police reform after first taking a strong stance against the BLM protesters. Because his base supports him no matter what, he can afford to take a sharp turn to the left, combining populist economics with his brand of politics.

Reuters reports that dozens of Republican former US national security officials are forming a group to back Biden. This group includes officials who served under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush, it reports, adding that they believe that another four years of a Trump presidency would endanger US national security. The report says that the group believes that Biden is the better choice, despite policy differences.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below. Join me again next week for an update on Trump’s campaign. Till then, this is Nivedita signing off.

Published on June 26, 2020