It was a big night in politics last night, with progressive wins and losses in states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Oregon, and Idaho, and the specter of the Trump presidency looming large over some right-wing outcomes. Let’s get right into it.
One outcome was the Democratic establishment was proven wrong — at least, in some places. Matt Duss, a policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders, slyly recirculated a July 2019 comment from a “senior Democratic source” to a Fox News reporter about Justice Democrats, the group that initially backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), claiming, “No one is afraid of those nerds. They don't have the ability to primary anyone.” Three years later, Duss replied, “Millions spent on attack ads suggest that they are now extremely afraid of those nerds.”
“Nerds” or otherwise, Justice Democrats clearly feels vindicated by their wins last night. “Democratic voters don’t want to be sold corporate millionaire candidates, they want working-class progressive leaders that will build a people-powered movement for everybody,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats.
How did they do it? If you believe what some are saying about wins in the swing state of Pennsylvania, by embracing the issues they campaigned on in a down-to-earth way and not getting caught up in policy explanations. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) recently spoke to Politico about what she feels are Democrats’ shortcomings when explaining their efforts to would-be supporters. “Voters are very quick to be able to sense when something is hollow rhetoric,” Porter told Politico. “It’s not about just switching up your talking points. It’s about seeing the issues.”
Read on for more context and stories to watch out of Tuesday’s primaries.
As discussed, progressives are excited about their wins in Pennsylvania. State Rep. Summer Lee and Lt. Gov. Fetterman both won their primaries, with Lee beating a PAC-funded opponent and Fetterman defeating U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), who naively left his current coveted position to lose to Fetterman.
Lee’s win in particular is being celebrated by the groups that backed her campaign, including Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats. “We f*cking did it. This election pit people power against millions of dollars, and today, Summer Lee proved that money is surmountable when you organize and run on a progressive platform,” Varshini Prakash, Sunrise executive director, said in a statement. “Young and working people were able to defeat Super PACs through local organizing. We showed our power, we knocked on doors, we called voters, and we decided this election.” Sunrise also backed Lee during her 2018 state house run.
Justice Democrats echoed that celebration, touting spending over $940,000 in Lee’s district on TV, mail, and digital ads. “After nearly three decades of the same, uninspiring, wealthy, white male leadership, this district is going to have a working-class, Black Congresswoman that actually reflects the community and their needs today,” Justice Dems’ Rojas said. “Summer Lee is going to deliver that for PA-12.”
Fetterman’s win happened while the candidate was hospitalized, after suffering a stroke the Friday before the primary; Fetterman evidently voted absentee from his hospital room. In addition to defeating Lamb, Fetterman also beat State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who, in a gesture of goodwill, told the press Tuesday night he would be stumping for Fetterman. “We don’t know yet who the Republican nominee is, but we know that in John Fetterman, we’re going to have a nominee that is heads and shoulders above whatever full time resident of fantasy island they have on the other side,” Kenyatta told Meet the Press. Fetterman’s win also received backing from President Biden.
Trump supporters netted a big win on Tuesday as well with Doug Mastriano’s sweep of the Republican gubernatorial primary. Mastriano, who has publicly cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election, participated in the events of January 6th, funding buses to the Capitol and attending the rally. The Republican races in PA aren’t totally settled yet, though: The Republican primary for Senate, neck-and-neck between TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick, will likely result in a recount.
North Carolina had a big night of meaningful losses across the aisle.
Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the right-wing firebrand who burst onto the scene after becoming elected to Congress at age 25, was ousted from his seat after big wigs in the party backed State Sen. Chuck Edwards, who won the primary. Edwards was one of seven challengers in Cawthorn’s primary, as a jumble of bad PR, scandals, and incendiary comments from Cawthorn — a longtime Trump supporter — convinced the party to jump ship.
But progressives also saw hard losses in the state after both Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and former State Sen. Erica Smith lost their primaries. Allam lost to State Sen. Jackie Foushee, and Smith to Don Davis. Both were backed by groups including the Sunrise Movement. “We are so proud to have supported Nida Allam and Erica Smith in North Carolina, despite being up against an historic $18 million dollars in Super PAC money, a Democratic trifecta that has given voters nothing to hope for, and an establishment that let Super PACs spend $18M to silence young people,” Sunrise’s Varshini Prakash said in a statement after the races were called.
The biggest win in Kentucky was for Charles Booker, former state house representative, in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator. He had challenged Amy McGrath in the 2020 Senate primary, narrowly losing. With Tuesday’s win, Booker is the first Black Kentuckian to get the Democratic nomination to the seat; Booker’s campaign points out that he is the descendant of Kentucky slaves.
Booker recently spoke to Teen Vogue about the significance of his run, and particularly why young voters matter to him. “The voice and leadership of young Kentuckians is central to our campaign. Being elected to the Kentucky House as the youngest Black state legislator in nearly 90 years, I have always felt the pressure of being the youngest person in the room,” Booker told Teen Vogue in April 2022. “I know that young people cannot be an afterthought or a box to check off.”
Booker goes on to a matchup with Republican Rand Paul.
The big story in Oregon is in the state’s fifth congressional district, where Democrat incumbent Kurt Schrader is losing to progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Schrader was backed by President Biden, but local groups rallied behind McLeod-Skinner, who slammed Schrader for voting against “key pieces of the Democratic agenda,” as explained by the New York Times. As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, 53% of votes were reported, with McLeod-Skinner at just over 61.3% and Schrader at 38.7%.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Young People are Mobilizing, Even as Democrats Resist
Stay up-to-date with the politics team. Sign up for the Teen Vogue Take!