5 November 2018

Category Opinion
5 November 2018,

Bernie Sanders is calling it “a pivotal moment in American history”. And for good reason: this Tuesday’s US general election could impose a restraining order on Donald Trump.

At present, the Republicans control the Senate, the House and the White House – but the Democrats are in a strong position to make the net gain of 23 seats they need to take the House.

The Senate is a different matter because, although the Republican majority is narrower, most of the seats up for grabs are Democrat held and even some of those – such as West Virginia – look vulnerable because Trump won them in the 2016 presidential election.

Alongside these national elections are contests at state level for Governorships, state assemblies and a host of other posts that will signal how strong grassroots resistance is to Trump and measure the chances of him being defeated in 2020.

But this election isn’t just about Trump. What also makes it more interesting and significant than usual is the way the 2016 Sanders campaign has spawned a new generation of progressive candidates – some of whom are self-declared socialists – who could win seats in Congress and even Governorships.

There are dozens of contests across the US involving people endorsed by Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party or Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – and sometimes all three.

The most high-profile of these is 29-year-old DSA member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who shocked political pundits in June by defeating a long-standing incumbent to win the Democratic nomination for the Congressional district covering of the Bronx and Queens in New York City. She should now win the seat by a landslide.

My other tips for contests to watch are all much closer. Between them, they will say a lot about the way politics in the US is going because all five are in States won by Trump in 2016, including three in the Mid-West where white working class voters were swayed by his right-wing populist rhetoric.

In Wisconsin District 1, which takes in the southern part of Milwaukee and is 87% white, Working Families-backed Randy Bryce has a one-point poll lead over Republican Bryan Steil. The House seat has been held by retiring House majority leader Paul Ryan since 1999 but the district was won by Barack Obama in 2008 and Bryce – a union ironworker and Army veteran – could pull off a victory that would shake the White House.

In neighbouring Michigan, Justice Democrat Matt Morgan is mounting a strong challenge to incumbent Jack Bergman in District 1. An Iraq combat veteran, Morgan has called on Trump to stay in the International Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia and wants Congress to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which gives presidents a blank check for war.

The fifth most populous state in the union, Pennsylvania, is also one of the biggest battlegrounds. The Republicans hold the majority of Congressional seats, but several could change hands, including District 11 where Jess King is closing fast on the Republican Lloyd Smucker in an area that voted heavily for Trump. A Mennonite Christian and anti-poverty campaigner, King has tried to find common ground with Trump voters on issues such as healthcare and the economy. “We don’t talk about Trump so much,” says King, who is endorsed by Sanders personally, “because it’s not helpful, in that it becomes another element of the division, and shame is not a tactic that works.”

Moving to the South, my final ones-to-watch are the contests for State governor in Florida and Georgia where two African-American candidates, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams respectively, are looking to make history.

Last week, Sanders was in Florida campaigning for Gillum, who had just edged into a one-point lead in the polls. If elected, he would be the first African-American governor in a state that could decide the 2020 presidential election. Sanders says: “Gillum’s victory would not only instantly make him one of the most progressive governors in the country, it would send an unmistakable message about the ideas we must run on if we want to beat Trump and Trumpism in 2020.”

In Georgia, meanwhile, Abrams is fighting a Republican candidate notorious for his involvement in voter suppression. As Georgia’s current secretary of state, Brian Kemp is in charge of voting systems and at the centre of controversies around tens of thousands of voter registrations. Only last Friday, a federal court ruled that more than 3,000 voters who were incorrectly flagged as ‘noncitizens’ – because the state failed to update their status – must be allowed to vote. As polls put Abrams neck and neck with Kemp, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama have stepped into the fray to try to secure the election of the first woman African-American governor in US history – in the state that was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jnr.

And, finally, there is the small matter of the election of a US Senator for Vermont, where the incumbent is….Bernie himself.

If you want to check how my six-to-watch are doing, their Twitter handles are:

@Ocasio2018     @IronStache     @MorganForMI     @jessforcongress     @AndrewGillum     @staceyabrams

Steve Howell

Steve is a former adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and the author of Game Changer, which tells the inside story of Labour’s 2017 election campaign.


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