As a whole, the Democratic Party is in quite the precarious position at the moment. The Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives, we are hanging onto the Senate by a thread, and our majority in the House of Representatives is nowhere near strong enough to resist a possible red wave in 2022. All the while, moderates like President Joe Biden are chipping away at the promises of progressive policy that got them elected, like forgiving student debt. They have failed to follow through on this promise, instead choosing to wring their hands and say that there isn’t room in the budget, then turn around and increase military spending during peacetime. Federal student loan payments have been suspended since March 2020, and the economy has not collapsed as a result. Despite this, payments will be restarting in February 2022, with no forgiveness anywhere in sight. Still, moderates clutch their metaphorical pearls to their necks when progressives run against them in primary elections, claiming that it opens their seats up to challenges from Republican candidates.
The biggest factor contributing to wins for progressives is not that moderates are failing to keep up with demands for progressive policy, but instead that they are failing to bring to fruition the promises of progressive policy that they make during their campaigns. In terms of strategy, this is an excellent one — for losing votes and support. How can they expect to win reelection when they show contempt for the policies that got them elected once they reach office?
It is only natural that progressives like myself are going to criticize moderates like Biden. If I don’t have faith that a candidate will vote for and introduce legislation that I support, why shouldn’t I campaign against them in primary elections? Why should I compromise my political and ethical beliefs? Primary elections are an opportunity to support the candidate within your party who most closely aligns with your individual beliefs. I will be supporting progressive candidates in the upcoming primary elections. While I’m not a huge fan of the moderate candidates running, I will vote for them in November if they become the party’s nominees. I do this out of an understanding of the consequences of abstaining from voting or voting third party. This is a common mindset amongst progressives, and I observed it while on campus during the 2020 election.
I don’t think that enough progressive voters will refrain from voting for moderate candidates to seriously diminish the chances of a Democrat winning the 2022 Ohio Senate race. That said, if I as a progressive am expected to compromise my beliefs for the greater good of the party, then I expect moderates to do the same when progressive candidates receive nominations, and vote for them even if they are “too progressive.”
Additionally, I find the idea grossly offensive that I, a young person who has been following electoral politics since the age of thirteen, am “in the ‘honeymoon phase’ of [my] political action,” as last week’s Review piece “Moderate Candidates Are Worth Our Time” called it. It’s worth noting that I am nowhere near the most politically active or experienced person on campus. Voting means having a say in the future of hundreds of millions of people, as well as myself. This is not a responsibility that I take lightly. In the past six years of following politics and two years of voting, I have both learned and unlearned many beliefs and ideas.
One of the things that I have learned in the past few years is that we as Democrats must abandon the idea that just because a place has copious Trump signs or is otherwise conservative, it is a battle that has already been lost. We must also abandon the belief that because a place is generally conservative, moderates will see more success than progressives. The former is harmful, divisive rhetoric that leaves people feeling looked over and down upon.
For example, many Democrats in Pennsylvania overlook rural, traditionally conservative areas and spend little time campaigning in them, despite the fact that they do have supporters in these areas. They then struggle to bring out voters in those areas. Putting in face time is known to be a good way to gain voters. Showing up demonstrates to these people that they matter, and progressive candidates know how to do that. Showing up everywhere has been central to progressive Senate candidate John Fetterman’s campaign. He has made it a mission of his to visit every one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties not only once, but many times throughout his campaign. To the latter point, he has had people come out to support him in every single county, and is by far the most successful Democrat in the race.
Progressive candidates can absolutely be successful in less reliably blue areas. They just need to play their cards right, especially as moderates appear to be failing to do so.