There is much more than the presidency at stake come November 8. Whoever controls the Senate and the House will determine what the next president can accomplish. Governors and legislatures decide whether a given state is a “laboratory of democracy” or a political shop of horrors in which unions are attacked, school funding is endangered, and gerrymandering denies people the right to be heard. Along with Russ Feingold’s Senate race in Wisconsin and Zephyr Teachout’s House race in New York (both already covered by The Nation), here’s a survey of the progressive campaigns that are shaping the 2016 debate and, perhaps, the future:
Deborah Ross, US Senate, North Carolina
A civil-rights lawyer who served as director of the state ACLU before her election to the state legislature, Ross is often compared to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Could such a candidate really beat a Republican incumbent in a Southern state? Yes. Aided mightily by Emily’s List and by North Carolinians who are determined to renew their state’s reputation as the region’s most progressive, Ross has surged in the polls. If she beats right-winger Richard Burr, Democratic prospects for retaking the Senate will surge too.
Misty K. Snow, US Senate, Utah
Inspired by Bernie Sanders and undaunted by the odds against Democrats in conservative Utah, Snow has mounted a progressive populist campaign that celebrates economic and social justice. As the first transgender person to win a major-party Senate nomination, the 30-year-old Democrat has challenged stereotypes and skeptics. Her grassroots campaign embodies the spirit of the “50-state strategy” that Sanders and others say the Democrats must renew.
Angie Craig, US House of Representatives, Minnesota
Bidding to replace a retiring Republican in a race against a virulently right-wing talk-radio personality, Craig might have been expected to run a cautious and calculating campaign. But that’s not her style. “She’s one of the most exciting candidates I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” Congressional Progressive Caucus first vice chair Mark Pocan says of Craig, a business executive who is married to her lesbian partner and has used her campaign to argue in rich detail for a serious response to climate change, big infrastructure investments, and ending the Cuban trade embargo to open new markets for Minnesota’s farmers. Backed by labor, environmental, and progressive groups, Craig is one of several Democratic women (Teachout is another) who could swing a Republican seat to the Democrats this fall.
Kate Brown, Governor, Oregon
Progressive governors can show executives in other states and in Washington, DC, how to solve problems. Shortly after she assumed the governorship of Oregon in 2015, Brown did just that: She signed a groundbreaking measure to automatically register voters (see Ari Berman, in this issue), which she had championed as Oregon’s activist secretary of state. She faces voters this fall in what is likely to be precisely the sort of high-turnout election that her model legislation makes possible.