Politicians who supported popular redistributive policies, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, were reelected at higher rates than ostensibly centrist Democrats, including in swing districts. “The people who actually back progressive policies came through the election largely unscathed and, in many cases, fared better than their more conservative Democratic counterparts in swing districts,” Kahn wrote. Ocasio-Cortez made the evidence-backed case for the positive role played by the left in the 2020 election
In Maine, Democratic state Rep. Chloe Maxmin, a progressive champion who ran on the promise of a Green New Deal and offered a “politics as public service” in a strong GOP district, and won. Maxmin won over voters by engaging deeply with her community and offering a platform focused on climate action, investing in universal broadband access, and treating healthcare as a human right. Maxmin’s campaign was focused on providing help to people in a part of Maine where many feel disillusioned by politics and neglected by leaders in the state legislature and Washington, D.C. — but her energy was spent less on convincing voters to back a progressive agenda and more on giving them a platform to talk about their own experiences.
November 09, 2020 by Common Dreams
“Saying progressive policies held Democrats back from expanding their House majority/taking the Senate just doesn’t hold water with data available so far.”by Kenny Stancil, staff writer, Common Dreams
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks to Sunrise Movement activists protesting in the offices of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Washington D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux)
Shedding more light on a significant electoral trend that progressives have drawn attention to in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. election, a new analysis by Earther found that of the 93 House co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution who ran for reelection this year, only one lost their congressional race.
“Simply put,” wrote journalist Brian Kahn in Earther, “the Green New Deal is not a political loser,” including for representatives in swing districts.
Kahn identified four House co-sponsors who represent districts that “range from very slightly Democratic to moderately Republican,” according to Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index. Of those four, three—Reps. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Jahana Hayes (D- Conn.), and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)—have already “decisively won their reelection bids,” while the fourth, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D- N.Y.), is projected to win handily “once all mail-in ballots are counted.”
“This quick-and-dirty analysis,” Kahn said, “aligns with other data showing that representatives who have sponsored and voted for progressive policies were not punished by voters.”
As Common Dreams reported this weekend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and others pointed out that every single congressional member who ran for reelection this year as a supporter of Medicare for All won their race.
Ocasio-Cortez hinted that her team would be “running numbers” on the Green New Deal—of which she is the lead House sponsor—next. As Earther’s analysis showed, the reelection rate for representatives who co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution was nearly 100% as well, with 92 out of those 93 congressional members retaining their seat.
“Saying progressive policies held Democrats back from expanding their House majority/taking the Senate just doesn’t hold water with data available so far,” Kahn noted on Twitter.
As Common Dreams reported last week, the blame game within the Democratic Party began immediately in the wake of its lackluster showing in down-ticket contests, with officials from the right and left flanks of the party pointing fingers at each other.
The New York Times allowed Ocasio-Cortez to make the evidence-backed case for the positive role played by the left in the 2020 election, but for the most part, corporate media outlets over the weekend did their best to cement the right-wing narrative that progressive policy ideas are to blame for the party’s underwhelming performance in down-ballot races.
So-called moderate Republicans like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as moderate Democrats like South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, were given airtime on CNN to falsely claim Americans don’t back egalitarian policy proposals.
These assaults continue despite recent polling, including surveys commissioned by Fox News, that indicates the majoritarian popularity of left-wing policy ideas eschewed by Democrats and Republicans alike, including an expanded role for the government in the provision of healthcare and the creation of green jobs in energy and infrastructure.
In Georgia, for instance, where Democrats have a chance to secure a Senate majority if they win both runoff races, voters prefer a universal public option to the Affordable Care Act.
Since voting ended last week, however, numerous corporate-friendly politicians have advocated for shifting the nation’s political center of gravity rightward, despite the fact that politicians who supported popular redistributive policies, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, were reelected at higher rates than ostensibly centrist Democrats, including in swing districts. “The people who actually back progressive policies came through the election largely unscathed and, in many cases, fared better than their more conservative Democratic counterparts in swing districts,” Kahn wrote.
“For all the complaining about progressive policies sinking Democrats’ chances of expanding their hold on the House and overtaking the Senate,” he added, “the data available so far just is not there.”
John Nichols, The Nation’s national affairs correspondent and author of The “S” Word: A Short History of An American Tradition… Socialism, tweeted that “the Democratic Party’s problem is not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
“The Democratic Party’s problem,” he continued, “is that it keeps trying to marginalize the people who build energy and excitement about fighting for the future, like… Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
The results of the U.S. Senate race this week in Maine — won by four-term Republican Sen. Susan Collins after Democrats poured $50 million into challenger Sara Gideon’s campaign — may have given the impression that a Trumpian right-wing agenda has an iron grip on the state’s more conservative rural voters, but the victory of Democratic state Rep. Chloe Maxmin, a progressive champion who ran on the promise of a Green New Deal and offering a “politics as public service” in a strong GOP district, tells a much different story.
Two years after winning a seat in the state House of Representatives, representing conservative, rural District 88, Maxmin secured a win in her challenge to state Senate Republican Leader Dana Dow. As in her first campaign for elected office, Maxmin won over voters in state Senate District 13 — where residents chose Collins over Gideon — by engaging deeply with her community and offering a platform focused on climate action, investing in universal broadband access, and treating healthcare as a human right. Maxmin’s campaign was focused on providing help to people in a part of Maine where many feel disillusioned by politics and neglected by leaders in the state legislature and Washington, D.C. — but her energy was spent less on convincing voters to back a progressive agenda and more on giving them a platform to talk about their own experiences.
“When I talk to folks, I mostly listen, I don’t show up and talk about myself,” Maxmin told Common Dreams on Thursday. “I really try and listen and make sure that the voices that I hear are reflected in our campaign … The work that we do on our side is to really think about campaigns differently, because we see them as one of the primary ways that we can start building a new type of politics. So we didn’t use any party consultants. We designed all of our mailers, palm cards, postcards ourselves. We’re all about authentic conversation and just had dozens and dozens of volunteers writing postcards or having conversations with voters and using the same style of just listening, and not going around saying, ‘You should vote for Chloe because of this,’ but trying to understand where people are at.”
“My sense is that people really saw that we were doing it differently and that I could be in office differently, too,” she added.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, the Maxmin campaign further stepped up its commitment to engaging directly with voters, enlisting 200 volunteers to check on voters’ wellbeing.
“Maxmin called upon her volunteers to reach out to every senior in her district and her network of campaign volunteers provided food, assistance with prescription drugs and identified transpiration needs,” Marie Follayttar, director of the progressive grassroots group Mainers for Accountable Leadership, told Common Dreams. “Chloe is both a community organizer and an elected official. Not only is Chloe willing to listen to the people where they are — at their dinner table or at their door — she is demonstrably responsive to their needs and leverages the organizing structure of her campaign to assist her in accomplishing mutual aid work.”
Other Democratic campaigns in the state, Follayttar noted, “could have done this as well. We transform lives by being present in them and building community to support one another. We move into legislative action by turning the concerns heard at the door into legislation.“
Maxmin, who introduced the state’s Green New Deal in 2019, with the notable backing of the state AFL-CIO, and co-founded the fossil fuel divestment campaign Divest Harvard while in college, won applause from national climate action campaigners at 350.org and Friends of the Earth.
“Just seeing the amazing news that Chloe Maxmin — who was a young leader of Divest Harvard — has won a seat in the Maine State Senate!” exclaimed Thelma Young-Lutunatabua, an organizer with 350.org, on Wednesday. “Youth of the climate movement gaining political office!”
Maxmin’s tactic of engaging authentically with voters in reminiscent of “deep canvassing,” a method of campaigning used by the national grassroots network People’s Action and found to be 102 times more effective at winning over undecided voters than a typical brief interaction during a door-knocking or phone-banking campaign.
“Deep canvassing differs from traditional campaign tactics because it relies on soul,” People’s Action Director George Goehl told Common Dreams. “In a deep canvass conversation, you break down your walls and the canvasser and voter really connect with one another. This is the kind of organizing that changes hearts and minds.”
Maxmin told Common Dreams that her campaign led her to “thousands” of similar interactions. “I had thousands of conversations with people,” she said. “And it’s so interesting when you have that kind of breadth to your exposure of humanity, just the themes that you hear. And it was really, really consistent—rarely hearing direct issues, mostly hearing about how people are so frustrated with everyone and everything on both sides and just hating the negative campaigning.”
Mike Tipping of Maine People’s Alliance, an affiliate of People’s Action, credited Maxmin’s ability to connect with voters across party lines, stressing that Maxmin ran a campaign she defined as “bipartisan” rather than “progressive” because issues that matter to voters in her rural district are important to people of all political beliefs.
“These are universal progressive values,” Tipping told Common Dreams. “Too often we talk about these things in a partisan lens, but overwhelmingly people believe we need to tax the wealthy, that we need to raise the minimum wage, that we need sick days, paid family leave, healthcare access that’s real, that everyone can see a doctor when they need to. Those are not limited to a party. And when you build a multi-race, multi-class coalition like Chloe did … That’s how you win in those places.”
In “Rural Runner,” a short film by Forest Woodward about Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, Maxmin is seen knocking on doors in rural Maine, talking to voters about how their lives could be impacted by a Green New Deal for the state and other progressive legislation.
“Every year we keep electing the same kind of folks,” she says in the film. “They tell us the same things, they act the same way, we elect them, they get into the state House, and they break the same promises and we’re left with the same disillusionment that we had before.”
In 2018, Maxmin began her campaign in House District 88 as an underdog, 16 points behind her opponent, but credited her tireless face-to-face campaigning with securing victory.
“What Chloe and I have done is pretty simple,” said Woodward in “Rural Runner,” which was filmed as the team was beginning Maxmin’s campaign for the state Senate race. “We put one foot in front of the other, we listen, we show up every day rain or shine, we do our best. We never really know what we’re capable of unless we try.”
After becoming the first Democrat ever to win House District 88 at the age of 26, Maxmin introduced her state’s own Green New Deal, centering the legislation on a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel sector and investing in solar installations for newly-built schools. In the State House, she has also sponsored legislation to provide access to rural public transportation, an issue she campaigned on this year and called “the great equalizer in rural communities.” Maine Senate District 13 has been represented by Republicans for most of the last decade.
While the national Democratic Party often express wariness about engaging with voters in traditionally conservative areas about issues erroneously deemed “left wing,” such as far-reaching action to solve the climate emergency, Maxmin’s winning campaigns suggest Democrats can find more success with rural voters by being unapologetic proponents of policies aimed at helping working people.
“She is no shrinking violet and didn’t try and moderate herself or be anyone other than who she is, and I think voters responded to that,” Tipping said.
During the campaigns Maxmin and Woodward have run together, they wrote in an article for The Nation in 2018, “We dig into the local, cultivating relationships and utilizing the resourcefulness of our rural communities to build a rooted movement… We see that rural America is alive and beautiful, eager to be heard and remembered.”
“Many have welcomed us into their homes and honored us with stories of family members who are registering to vote just for our campaign, who are voting Democrat for the first time, who have never voted in a midterm but now are because our movement gives them hope,” they continued.
“We view our campaign as a movement, built on shared values and authentic conversations,” Maxmin and Woodward wrote. “We build real political power, with lasting muscle for the long fight, with an inside-outside movement that elects authentic representatives to fight for everyone and continues to organize beyond the election to maintain pressure on our politicians.”
“The Green New Deal changed the politics so that Joe Biden could get behind a $2 trillion clean energy infrastructure package, and that was music to the ears of progressives but also helped Biden and the Democrats seem responsive to the economic crisis and in particular the jobs crisis,”
Oct 28, 2020 The Hill, excerpt
“The resolution had the potential to divide the party, and indeed it was co-sponsored by the most liberal members and not by moderates for the most part, but what changed is the Trump COVID economic crisis,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute and ex-adviser to former President Clinton.
“The Green New Deal changed the politics so that Joe Biden could get behind a $2 trillion clean energy infrastructure package, and that was music to the ears of progressives but also helped Biden and the Democrats seem responsive to the economic crisis and in particular the jobs crisis,” Bledsoe added.
Recent polling has found voters are generally supportive of the Green New Deal, either when presented with a description of the plan or when asked about it by name.
A Yale University poll last week found that 64 percent of voters expressed support for the Green New Deal.
That figure is in line with the share of voters who say they support Biden’s climate plan, which he has stressed won’t transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels as quickly as Green New Deal backers would prefer.
“My deal is the crucial framework, not the New Green Deal,” Biden said during a town hall earlier this month. “The New Green Deal calls for the elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030 — you can’t get there. You’re going to need to be able to transition.”
The distancing demonstrated by Biden has been seen elsewhere down the ballot, primarily where Democrats are in tough races in swing districts.
Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), a first-term congressman whose initial campaign centered on environmental impacts on the South Carolina coast, has repeatedly said he does not support the Green New Deal.
In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly (D) has struck a similar tone in his race to unseat Sen. Martha McSally (R).
“Since the Green New Deal was authored, I’ve been against it,” Kelly has said.
But Democrats and Republicans agree on one race where campaigning in favor of the Green New Deal has proven successful.
“The only Democrat who has benefited from the Green New Deal was Sen. Markey, and that was in a Democratic primary,” said Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a Republican group working to advance climate policy.
Markey told The Hill that the proposal has helped Democrats on several fronts.
“The Green New Deal has transformed the national discussion around the climate crisis. It has galvanized a movement of young, diverse activists who have made climate change an electoral powerhouse, and climate action a winning issue. We are seeing progressive candidates running, and winning, on their support for a Green New Deal,” Markey said in a statement.
“On Election Day, this movement of young climate activists will be the difference for Joe Biden and candidates up and down the ballot,” he added.
Republican strategists, however, insist it’s “a stone-cold winner for Republicans.”
“What they screwed up on is it’s not a serious proposal in that it’s a liberal wish list and they’ve introduced it and become defined by it. It’s not something that could even be attractive to moderate Democrats,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist.
Flint said Democrats erred in their messaging and by including polarizing issues like health care and wages without fully selling their environmental vision.
“The Green New Deal advocates never defined what the Green New Deal was and allowed others to assign it the worst attributes they could probably imagine,” he said, something that will turn off the moderate voters he says are needed to win elections.
Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which has done extensive polling on the Green New Deal, countered that GOP messaging isn’t as effective as they might think — primarily because it largely only resonates with Republicans.
Polling six months after the resolution was introduced found support dropped among “not all Republicans, but Republicans that watch Fox News whose views changed because [Fox News has] demonized it as socialism and ‘They want to take away your hamburgers’ and other claims,” Leiserowitz said.
But the world has shifted since the Green New Deal was introduced in 2019, with climate change increasingly visible and the spread of the coronavirus and its devastating effect on the economy.
“Support for government action has increased,” Leiserowitz said, adding that “the narrative Republicans have been promoting since the Reagan era … is increasingly out of tune with where the public is now because, faced with massive crises, we realize we can’t solve [them] through individual action.”
Democrats see the Green New Deal as energizing a class of younger, more progressive voters that will be key for electoral victory.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which has released its own climate plan, credited the Green New Deal with rallying congressional Democrats around the need for urgency in a “place of great inertia.”
“I think it’s been very successful in framing solving the climate crisis as an opportunity and one that’s based on fairness and equity,” she told The Hill.
“There are alternative narratives in the world right now, but I think overall the Green New Deal is a rallying cry for action, and that’s why I think the GOP minimizes it at their peril,” she said.
Bledsoe said Biden has played the issue in exactly the right manner, embracing the economic vision and clean energy focus of the Green New Deal that lets progressives feel that they’re being heard, while sidestepping bans on fossil fuels or extraneous social issues included in the proposal that might not be palatable in some districts.
“The way Biden has handled the issue has allowed it to be a net benefit,” Bledsoe said.
“Because it did mobilize the left and the young people around the climate change issue in a way other proposals had not done before, and then Democrats are smart people — they can take the parts of it they like and leave the parts they don’t like,” he added.