The 2022 midterm elections are technically in November, but the shape of those elections is being determined by primary races on May 17 and 24. On the 24th, Texas’s Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration attorney and activist, will go head-to-head with the last anti-choice Democrat in Congress. On the 17th, in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, progressive candidates Summer Lee and Nida Allam are being backed by organizations including Sunrise Movement and the Working Families Party — and facing an uphill battle against competitors with deep pockets.
Lee, 34, currently serves as a State Representative in western Pennsylvania, where her congressional run has netted endorsements from nearly all the progressives in Congress. But groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have recently spent over $2 million in the race, funneled through a PAC, to back her challenger, attorney Steve Irwin.
Lee recently spoke to Teen Vogue about the barriers money in politics creates for those looking to challenge power. “We can build grassroots movements that bring in people from every corner of our district, and a corporate PAC or a few billionaires can come in and toss a few million dollars to silence a movement,” Lee told Teen Vogue. “Our elections and our politics are not being run by or for people, they are being run by and for corporate power. If we want to actually have a democracy, then only the people should have power in our politics.”
In North Carolina, 28-year-old Allam, Durham County Commissioner and the first Muslim woman ever elected in the state, would be the youngest person ever elected to Congress. But outlets report that huge sums of money are pouring into the North Carolina CD4 primary, backing Allam’s challenger, State Sen. Valerie Foushee, and slamming Allam.
One Raleigh, North Carolina-based Democratic strategist who is backing Foushee told HuffPost, “National groups are pouring money into North Carolina for the sole purpose of stopping a new Squad member from going to D.C. The last thing we need in North Carolina is a Squad member that every Democrat in the state gets asked every day about their comments.” EMILY’s List, a mainstream abortion rights-organization working to elect pro-choice women, has endorsed Foushee and Protect Our Future, a PAC that claims their platform focus is pandemic preparedness, is channeling financial support to the candidate. And AIPAC’s new PAC threw more than $700,000 behind ad buys for Foushee, according to HuffPost.
A spokesman for the PAC told the Washington Post, “We’re monitoring 10 to 15 more races with candidates who are out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations and inconsistent with the pro-Israel positions of President Biden.” Allam told the Post that she received “threatening messages” after the PAC-funded attack ads aired calling her too “radical.” “We had an inkling that these types of groups would come in,” Allam said.
And in the state’s first district, former state senator Erica Smith is challenging State Sen. Don Davis, who previously voted to defund Planned Parenthood and has a track record of voting alongside Republicans. The recent Roe v. Wade SCOTUS leak is clearly already having an impact on these races. On May 4, two days after the leak, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) went to go stump for Cisneros’s opponent, anti-choice Henry Cuellar (D-TX), knowing that he was an opponent to abortion rights. That same week, Sunrise and NARAL Pro-Choice America made nearly 20,000 for Cisneros, one of their “largest phonebanking nights,” according to Sunrise Communications Director Ellen Sciales.
“At a time when Democrats are rallying around abortion rights, dark money is propping up candidates like Henry Cuellar [and] Don Davis, who have weak records on defending those rights,” says Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, which has backed Lee, Cisneros, Davis, and Allam.
While they face formidable opposition, groups like Sunrise Movement have made over 550,000 calls to voters in Cisneros’s district alone, phonebanking for Lee, Allam, and Smith as well. Progressives and establishment Democrats have treated these primaries as important face-offs in a continued wrestling match for control of the party’s direction.
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