Maryland State Senator-elect Jamie Raskin won 99 percent of the vote today — this after a brutal primary in which pundits declared his chances of winning were “impossible.” His victory is cause for genuine celebration, hope, and expectations of great things to come. Raskin – a professor of Constitutional Law at American University as well as a valued Nation contributor – offered these reflections on a night of political change across the nation as seen through his own experience running for State Senate.
“When I first announced against a 32-year incumbent who was President Pro Tem of the Maryland State Senate and Chair of the Montgomery County delegation in the Senate, all of the pundits and politicos said victory was impossible. Now they’re saying it was inevitable. But of course it was neither–it was just possible, but it became increasingly likely with the infusion of incredible progressive energy and imagination from dozens and dozens of really fired-up Democrats disenchanted with lethargic machine politics and our constant right-ward drift. When I announced my candidacy, I had the support of no elected official and the incumbent already had more than $200,00 in the bank. We won based on relentless door-knocking and a grassroots uprising focused on political substance and hunger for change.
The big story in my mind is how the huge blue tide bringing in Democratic victories all over the country has been powered by less-visible grassroots insurgencies and progressive challenges within the Democratic Party animated by horror at the War in Iraq and the catastrophe of Katrina and everything it represents. Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction is my county, Montgomery, which is home to more Democratic voters than any other county. Before the great victories of Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate and Martin O’Malley for Governor came tonight, there was a big progressive upsurge in our county politics over the last year against machine Democrats who are heavily influenced by development interests. In the September primary, two fine progressive candidates, Duchy Tractenberg and Marc Elrich, defied all the odds and took two at-large County Council seats away from candidates bankrolled by the developers. The newly elected County Executive in Montgomery, Ike Leggett, is the first African-American ever elected to that office; he challenged the power of the developers and organized the neighborhoods. Similarly, in my race, all of the huge landlords and apartment owners took note of my pro bono work for tenants in Silver Spring and contributed furiously to my opponent. They placed her Orwellian-sized campaign signs, complete with a yearbook-like photo, in front of their buildings while the tenants put my campaign signs in their windows! That juxtaposition captured a lot about the dynamics of my election. My part of the County also propelled Valerie Ervin, a brilliant union organizer and school board member, to the Council–Valerie becomes the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Montgomery Council.