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Progressives Took A Step BACK The 2022 Primaries But Theyre Playing The Long Game

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.

Most progressive challengers lost to incumbents

How candidates endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee or the Sunrise Movement fared against incumbents in the 2022 Democratic primaries for Senate, House and governor

Candidate Race Result Endorsements
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.

Progressives won over fifty percent of open-seat primaries

How candidates endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Indivisible, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee or the Sunrise Movement fared in the 2022 Democratic primaries for Senate, House and governor lacking any incumbent on the ballot

Candidate Race Result Endorsements
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
Trish Gunby MO-02 Won Indivisible
Randi McCallian MO-08 Won Indivisible
Lucas Kunce MO Sen. Lost Indivisible, PCCC, Sanders
Tom Winter MT-01 Lost PCCC
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
Josh Riley NY-19 Won Indivisible
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

The establishment wing of the party decides

How candidates supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or United Democracy Project fared in the 2022 Democratic House primaries lacking any incumbent on the ballot

Candidate Race Result DCCC UDP
Jevin D. Hodge AZ-01 Won
Rudy Salas CA-22 Won
Jay F. Chen CA-45 Won
Brittany Pettersen CO-07 Won
Yadira Caraveo CO-08 Won
Annette Taddeo FL-27 Won
Christina Bohannan IA-01 Won
Liz Mathis IA-02 Won
Nikki Budzinski IL-13 Won
Glenn Ivey MD-04 Won
Hillary Scholten MI-03 Won
Adam Hollier MI-13 Lost
Don Davis NC-01 Won
Valerie Foushee NC-04 Won
Gabriel Vasquez NM-02 Won
Bridget Fleming NY-01 Won
Jackie Gordon NY-02 Won
Max N. Rose NY-11 Won
Pat Ryan NY-18 Won
Francis Conole NY-22 Won
Greg Landsman OH-01 Won
Emilia Sykes OH-13 Won
Steve Irwin PA-12 Lost

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.

Which progressive group or leader gets the best endorsement record?

Amount of candidates endorsed by progressive groups and figures in the 2022 Democratic primaries for Senate, House and governor lacking any incumbent on the ballot, and how usually the candidates won

Endorser Endorsements Wins Win Rate
Justice Democrats 3 3 100%
Sen. Bernie Sanders 10 8 80
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 4 3 75
Indivisible 12 8 67
Sunrise Movement 5 3 60
Our Revolution 12 7 58
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

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