The left-wing, Bernie Sanders-supporting faction of the Democratic Party swallowed the bitter pill of Jon Ossoff’s loss better than most. Progressive congressional candidates and political action committees alike seemed to think that while Ossoff did everything he could in a typically Republican district, their ideas are better suited for future wins anyway.
Ideally, they’d like to win without the necessity of millions of dollars from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They’d like to win without striking a centrist tone on issues of health care and taxation. And they’d like to give people something to vote for as opposed to something to vote against.
The Sanders-supporting congressional candidates and progressive political groups were not interested in bashing Ossoff on Wednesday. Instead, they pointed to this loss, and the three other special election losses for Democrats so far this year, as warning signs for the path forward and a reinforcement of the idea that their approach is the best way for the party to go.
“Sometimes we try to tailor our message too much,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 27-year-old former organizer for Sanders, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. She is now running a primary campaign against Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
“The idea that we need to compromise our positions to raise more money doesn’t win anymore,” she added.
Ocasio-Cortez was courted to run by Brand New Congress, a political action committee formed by former Sanders staffers intent on electing new progressives in Washington, D.C. She described a path forward for Democrats that emphasizes a careful balance between meeting the specific needs of local constituents and having a set of national priorities for every race. Those priorities include supporting single-payer health care, switching to renewable energy resources, championing criminal justice reform, and putting the working class ahead of multinational corporations and their influence in elections.
“If we’re not going to get on the boat with single-payer, living wage, and leveling income inequality, what are we fighting for?” Ocasio-Cortez said.
That is the question of the moment for the Democratic Party, which has tried to convert its #Resistance into something more than a referendum on the chaotic White House.
Randy Bryce, a union ironworker turned congressional candidate who goes by @IronStache on Twitter due to his facial hair, released an ad this week announcing his challenge for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin’s 1st District.
He said that the Hillary Clinton factions and Sanders wing that divided the party in 2016 were no longer really relevant. As an example, Bryce said he voted for Sanders in the primary and “had no problem” switching over to Clinton in the general election.
“I see myself as a bridge for both sides,” Bryce said. “It’s about winning, it’s about taking back the country.”
While his appearance and background fit perfectly with the recently sought-after white working class Midwest voter, it’s Bryce’s platform that makes him an exciting option for a left base hungry for change.
“I’m a working person,” Bryce told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. “It’s not like I’m trying to put my frame of mind in a working person’s position. I pack a lunch every morning. I go to work on a construction site.”
“Just driving around, I can point at stuff that I literally built with my hands,” he added.
His ad, which made waves this week, focused heavily on health care and specifically Ryan’s efforts to help pass the American Health Care Act in the House. Bryce, who told The Daily Beast that he is supportive of a single-payer model, pointed to his personal experience with cancer and his mother’s multiple sclerosis as parts of what make health care a visceral issue for him and his constituents.
“If it’s good enough for them and it works for them, why can’t we make it work here?” Bryce said of single-payer models in other countries.
While the idea of single-payer, championed by Sanders and his supporters, has gained in popularity over the last year or so among Democrats, it’s far from a universal tenet of Democratic campaigns. Ossoff was supportive of Obamacare and vocally against the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that could throw millions off of coverage. But he did not endorse a single-payer option. On the other hand, Montana folk singer Rob Quist, who lost his special election last month to Greg Gianforte, a day after the latter beat up a reporter, expressed more interest in a potential single-payer plan.
Sanders went on whirlwind tour to stump for Quist in the days leading up to the election but didn’t show up in Georgia. However, he did make it clear that it was “imperative” that Ossoff win his race.
Our Revolution, a political action organization run by Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ former campaign manager, told The Daily Beast that it didn’t issue a statement on Ossoff’s loss because it had never endorsed his campaign to begin with.
“Russia is not the issue on the mind of voters who are stuck in dead-end jobs or trying to survive on minimum wage with inadequate health care and a future insecurity for their children,” Chuck Idelson, communications director for the Sanders-supporting National Nurses United, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“Run candidates who are not afraid to challenge corporate donors and Wall Street. Recognize that ‘saving the ACA’ is not enough. With the ACA tens of millions can’t use the ‘insurance’ they pay for. Push for single-payer/guaranteed health care for all. Stop trying to force bad trade deals down workers’ throats.”
“How hard is this, really?” he concluded.
At the moment, it might be harder than it looks.
Still, for the candidates adopting elements of Sanders’ platform, Ossoff’s loss doesn’t portend a necessarily dark future.
“I think it’s a mistake to use local races as a heuristic for the success of a party overall,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Beast. “This idea of one race being an indicator of 2018 seems like too much of a jump.”
That’s their hope, at least.