While the presidential contest consumes much of our attention, down-ballot races could power a liberal revival
By Luke Brinker
Progressive America Rising via Salon.com
March 10, 2015 – As America marches inexorably toward a presidential election that will almost certainly feature another Clinton, possibly pitted against yet another Bush, a sense of resignation and fatalism has taken hold among many observers on both the progressive left and the anti-establishment right.
While Jeb and Hillary would trade barbs on such perennial wedges issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, and Clinton may be more supportive than Bush of what passes for a social safety net in this country — just don’t mind that bit about ending welfare as we knew it, and try not to focus on that pesky vote for bankruptcy “reform” — neither Wall Street-friendly candidate poses a threat to the plutocratic powers that be. Indeed, the masters of the universe can’t quite decide which of the two they’d prefer to see elected. Either way, they rest assured, they win.
Dispiriting as the coming national contest can be, however, it should not obscure one of the less-discussed dynamics of the 2016 elections: Across the country, a crop of unapologetically progressive candidates promises to infuse a new populist energy into the fight for the U.S. Senate, and may well transform the terms of debate within a Democratic Party that has spent the better part of the past three decades reconciling itself to the Reagan Revolution and embracing neoliberalism.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-The Elizabeth Warren Wing) is the latest progressive to toss her hat into the Senate ring, announcing today that she will seek the seat being vacated by Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski. Though she has served in Congress for six years now, Edwards is fundamentally an insurgent: The community activist won her seat after toppling a hawkish, centrist incumbent in the Democratic primary, and as a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Populist Caucus, she’s been at the forefront of the effort to move the Democrats leftward on issues like austerity, a living wage, foreign policy, and civil liberties. Befitting her congressional service, Edwards plans to run as an unabashed progressive populist.
“The corporate interests are gonna come at me with all their money,” Edwards tells voters in her announcement video. “But if you’ll join me in this fight there’s no way we can’t win. and when I step into Barbara Mikulski’s shoes as your next senator, you’ll always know where I stand — with you.”
Edwards won’t enjoy a clear Democratic field: Fellow Rep. Chris Van Hollen has already launched his bid for Mikulski’s seat, and he has secured the backing of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
Though Van Hollen has put forth some worthy proposals on economic issues, he’s hardly the most progressive nominee Democrats could field in a race their candidate is almost certain to win: Liberals haven’t forgotten, for instance, that he backed the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction framework, which would have cut Social Security benefits. Edwards, by contrast, supports Sen. Warren’s proposal to expand the program. The congresswoman has also staked out more civil libertarian positions than Van Hollen; whereas she supported the Amash-Conyers amendment to overhaul the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, Van Hollen voted against it.
While the Edwards-Van Hollen contest sets up a potentially epic clash, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold is unlikely to face any serious Democratic challengers as he vies to reclaim his old job next year. Feingold recently stepped down from his role as an African envoy for the State Department, stoking speculation that he’ll seek a rematch with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the man who ousted him in the 2010 Tea Party wave election. The former senator has done nothing to discourage such speculation, pointedly referring to his “once, current, and I hope future chief of staff” in his final State Department speech and planning a “listening tour” of his state.
Feingold’s return would mark a particularly sweet victory for progressives, whose 2010 defeat ranked among the most devastating blows for Democratic liberals. (Continued)