When Rep. Kurt Schrader, a seven-term incumbent endorsed by President Biden, lost his primary in-may, he joined a little but slowly growing set of congressional veterans defeated by progressive candidates with the backing of an extremely influential campaign apparatus on the left.
This renewed progressive movement emerged following Sen. Bernie Sanderss 2016 presidential primary run, yet despite some high-profile wins in 2018, its candidates lost more regularly than they won because of scattershot strategy. Then, in 2020, when progressives got more targeted making use of their electoral strategy, their win rate increased. However in 2022, the progressive movement seems to have taken a little step back.
FiveThirtyEight tracked every endorsement created by a significant progressive group for Senate, House and governor this primary season. We look at a candidate progressive-backed should they were endorsed by Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the following groups: Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, the Sunrise Movement or the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.1 We also viewed candidates backed by various groups and leaders representing the more moderate or establishment wing of the Democratic Party and discovered that, overall, the Democratic establishment comes with an edge in the battle for the partys soul.
Incumbents largely staved off progressive challengers
Eleven candidates endorsed by a minumum of one of these progressive organizations or people went in to the 2022 election cycle hoping to topple an incumbent.2 Only 1 of these won: Schraders opponent, attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. In comparison, in 2020, progressives won three out of 17 such battles.
|Mike Ortega||CA-46||Lost||Our Revolution|
|Marie Newman*||IL-06||Lost||Indivisible, Justice Democrats, PCCC|
|Kina Collins||IL-07||Lost||Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Sunrise|
|Junaid Ahmed||IL-08||Lost||Our Revolution|
|Andy Levin*||MI-11||Lost||Indivisible, Our Revolution, PCCC, Sanders, Sunrise|
|Amy Vilela||NV-01||Lost||Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Alessandra Biaggi||NY-17||Lost||Ocasio-Cortez, PCCC|
|Jumaane Williams||NY Gov.||Lost||Our Revolution|
|Nina Turner||OH-11||Lost||Ocasio-Cortez, Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Jamie McLeod-Skinner||OR-05||Won||Indivisible, Our Revolution, PCCC|
|Jessica Cisneros||TX-28||Lost||Ocasio-Cortez, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, PCCC, Sanders, Sunrise|
Of the races, probably the most closely watched was in Texass 28th Congressional District, where progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros took on Rep. Henry Cuellar for the second time. Cuellar is really a long-time moderate in the party and an opponent of abortion rights. In 2020 Cisneros came within 4 percentage points of unseating him. Cisneros and her supporters were seeking to replicate the success of Rep. Marie Newman, who defeated eight-term Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in 2020 after she lost to him by 2 points in 2018. (Lipinski also opposed abortion rights.) But despite all seven progressive entities we tracked being in her corner, Cisneros came up short: After forcing a runoff, she lost to Cuellar by only 289 votes. (Newman has gone out this cycle too. She lost to fellow incumbent Rep. Sean Casten.)
Incumbents myriad advantages help them win primaries usually. For just one, they (usually) have the support of party leadership. For example, in the race between Cisneros and Cuellar, Cuellar was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries. Even though Biden will not typically issue primary endorsements as his predecessor did, the president made three exceptions for House candidates this cycle, all for incumbents facing progressive primary challengers: Schrader and Reps. Shontel Brown and Danny Davis. Schrader lost, but both Brown and Davis prevailed.
Races like these that pit a progressive against an establishment Democrat are watched closely as referenda on the near future direction of the party. And among more moderate Democrats, progressive losses are seized upon to claim that the partys base continues to be pro-establishment or at the very least content with the status quo. For example, Jeffries, a known critic of the progressives in his party, was asked in August if he thought the progressive movement had stopped gaining ground. He responded, Politically, the left did involve some success in primarying Democratic incumbents in 2018, and 2020 But plenty of their electoral momentum begun to dissipate soon after Biden was elected Possibly the voters are sending us a note.
Progressives had more luck in open-seat races
Jeffriess analysis ignores that progressive-backed candidates do far better in primaries lacking any incumbent on the ballot. For instance, in 2022, the progressive-backed candidate won 14 from the 25 open-seat primaries where they ran best for a 56 percent win rate.
|Maxwell Alejandro Frost||FL-10||Won||PCCC, Sanders|
|Jonathan Jackson||IL-01||Won||Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Delia Ramirez||IL-03||Won||Indivisible, Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Litesa Wallace||IL-17||Lost||Indivisible, Our Revolution|
|Charles Booker||KY Sen.||Won||Indivisible, PCCC, Sunrise|
|Attica Scott||KY-03||Lost||Our Revolution, PCCC|
|Lucas Kunce||MO Sen.||Lost||Indivisible, PCCC, Sanders|
|Erica D. Smith||NC-01||Lost||PCCC, Sunrise|
|Nida Allam||NC-04||Lost||Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Sunrise|
|Melanie DArrigo||NY-03||Lost||Indivisible, Our Revolution|
|Brittany Ramos DeBarros||NY-11||Lost||Indivisible, Our Revolution, PCCC|
|Morgan Harper||OH Sen.||Lost||PCCC|
|Doyle E. Canning||OR-04||Lost||PCCC|
|Summer Lee||PA-12||Won||Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, PCCC, Sanders, Sunrise|
|David A. Segal||RI-02||Lost||Our Revolution|
|Odessa Kelly||TN-07||Won||Indivisible, Justice Democrats|
|Jasmine Crockett||TX-30||Won||Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Greg Casar||TX-35||Won||Ocasio-Cortez, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, Sanders, Sunrise|
|Peter Welch||VT Sen.||Won||Our Revolution|
|Becca Balint||VT-AL||Won||Our Revolution, Sanders|
|Mandela Barnes||WI Sen.||Won||Ocasio-Cortez, Indivisible, PCCC, Sanders|
Plus some of the were pretty big wins. For example, after Rep. Mike Doyle announced his intention never to run for reelection in Pennsylvanias safely Democratic 12th Congressional District, most progressive groups prearranged behind state Rep. Summer Lee. Because of this, Lee edged out Doyles chosen successor by significantly less than 1 point. Likewise, in Wisconsins U.S. Senate race, progressive-backed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was this type of formidable candidate that his closest rivals cannot gain traction and dropped out one at a time. That eventually resulted in his primary coronation (though it remains to be observed whether he’ll win the general election in November).
However, progressives also won fewer of the primaries than they did in 2020. That year, their win rate in incumbent-less primaries was a robust 69 percent (22 wins in 32 tries). Area of the decline could possibly be due to the emergence of a well-funded opposition mobilizing against them. For instance, progressives endorsed two congressional candidates in NEW YORK, former state Sen. Erica Smith and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who didn’t win their primaries. In both those elections, exactly the same foe stepped around block them: the United Democracy Project, a pro-Israel super PAC funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The United Democracy Project spent nearly $24.3 million this election cycle assisting to elect moderate Democrats over progressives, making use of their biggest outlay coming with respect to former Prince Georges County States Attorney Glenn Ivey over former Rep. Donna Edwards in Marylands 4th Congressional District.3 The super PACs efforts weren’t always successful in addition, it spent heavily against Lee, for instance nonetheless it did win more races it got involved with than progressives did: seven out of nine, or 78 percent.
Similarly, progressives win rate was less compared to the win rate of candidates supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the state House campaign arm of the Democratic Party. All 18 candidates who have been placed on the DCCCs Red to Blue list before their primaries advanced to the overall election.4
|Jevin D. Hodge||AZ-01||Won|
|Jay F. Chen||CA-45||Won|
|Max N. Rose||NY-11||Won|
Notably, the party went head-to-head against progressives only one time: in New Yorks 11th Congressional District, where former Rep. Max Rose defeated Army veteran Brittany Ramos DeBarros. Ramos DeBarros was endorsed by Indivisible, Our Revolution and the PCCC. Actually, 13 of the DCCCs Red to Blue candidates faced no Democratic opposition within their primaries. This can be a good reminder that progressive and establishment candidates arent necessarily in opposition.
Different progressive groups have different strategies
Its also vital that you remember that not absolutely all progressive groups will be the same. Some groups and leaders still start to see the value in endorsing a longer-shot candidate with little potential for winning to influence agenda-setting or remind more establishment candidates that their partys tent is big. Others, in comparison, tend to be more strategic, hoping to funnel their resources in to the races they feel they will have the best potential for winning. Because of this, certain progressive endorsers have better records than others.
|Sen. Bernie Sanders||10||8||80|
|Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez||4||3||75|
|Progressive Change Campaign Committee||11||4||36|
For example, Justice Democrats have a 100 percent win rate in incumbent-less primaries (three for three), up from 67 percent in 2020 (two for three) and a marked improvement from 2018 (32 percent), if they endorsed more broadly (50 candidates). As we wrote in 2020, of all progressive groups emerging since 2016, Justice Democrats, specifically, seem most targeted within their recruitment efforts and deliberate about their endorsements, which helps explain their success. Ocasio-Cortez (three for four) and the Sunrise Movement (three for five) also succeeded with limited endorsement strategies.
Of the progressives who have been a little freer making use of their endorsements, Sanders did the very best having an 80 percent win rate in incumbent-less primaries (eight for 10), up from 75 percent in 2020 (six for eight) and 56 percent in 2018 (five for nine). This may reflect Sanderss status because the godfather of the partys progressive wing, but given the growth in his own win rate, it may be the merchandise of a shrewder endorsement strategy. Finally, the PCCC was the only real progressive endorser we viewed with a losing record (36 percent, or four for 11).
The 2022 primaries continued to show all of the factors working against progressives factors which have kept the soul of the Democratic Party fairly establishment-friendly. But its also vital that you understand that progressives are playing the long game. They could not need won normally as their opponents. Still, many did win their primaries and can join an increasing number already inside. It could not be considered a sudden transformation, but progressives are slowly gaining strength within the Democratic Party with every passing election cycle.
Meredith Conroy can be an associate professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and co-author of Who Runs? The Masculine Advantage in Candidate Emergence. @meredithconroy_
Nathaniel Rakich is really a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight. @baseballot