Across various states — battleground states, Democratic strongholds and states where Democrats hope to be more competitive — voters seemed to issue a rebuke of the stagnant, centrist politics that have slowed key aspects of President Joe Biden's agenda. And they rejected politicians who’ve made that style of politics their gospel.
In Kentucky, Democrat Charles Booker secured the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. Two years ago, Democratic Party officials and donors backed centrist Amy McGrath over Booker as their favored candidate to face off against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in the general election — and McGrath got drubbed.
Booker has shored up his support since then, proving the rightness of his intuition about local party politics and ultimately netting a big “I told you so” en route to what looks like a dominant win (currently, he leads his closest primary opponent by more than 60 points).
In the Pennsylvania primary for U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman appeared to beat centrist Rep. Conor Lamb by more than 30 points. And though he's projected to finish in a distant third place, progressive state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has secured around 10 percent of the vote.
Fetterman is a supporter of universal health coverage, abolishing the filibuster and legalizing weed, and he’s vowed not to be a “Joe Manchin Democrat,” alluding to the West Virginia Democrat’s conservative bona fides. Fetterman squashing Lamb like he did sent a strong enough statement on its own about where Democratic voters’ heads are, but the votes Kenyatta received are further proof Pennsylvania Democrats aren’t satisfied with the status quo.
But Pennsylvania had more in store for progressives on Tuesday. Although final results haven’t been officially reported in the Democratic primary for the state's 12th Congressional District, Summer Lee, who was endorsed by progressive icons such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appeared to best attorney Steve Irwin, who’d been backed by establishment Democrats and center-right super PACs.
We’re seeing a similar upset in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, where progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner is projected to topple the incumbent, centrist Rep. Kurt Schrader.
During the race, McLeod-Skinner labeled Schrader the “Joe Manchin of the House,” alluding — like Fetterman did — to her opponent’s tendency to side with Republicans. Ironically, Schrader was one of few candidates endorsed by Biden this primary cycle.
But Democratic voters don’t seem to care at all. And there’s a lesson here for Democratic leadership, if they’re willing to learn it: Give the voters what they want. Democratic voters don’t have any confusion about how consequential these midterms are. They know — like any honest observer — that Republicans are waging an attack against democracy.
But they don’t want milquetoast candidates who don’t seem up to the task of beating it back. Democrats should stop offering them up, or risk the embarrassment that follows.