The 2018 midterm elections offer Americans a vital opportunity to check and balance the disastrous presidency of Donald Trump, to prevent Mitch McConnell from continuing to enable Trump as Senate majority leader, to finish Paul Ryan’s failed speakership in the House, and to end the crisis in the states created by the Republican governors who helped set the stage for Trump and Trumpism. For The Nation, these are essential political goals. But they are not the only ones. It is insufficient simply to oust bad players. This election must also empower leaders who are prepared to make a truly progressive change—and we will not get that change merely through a shift of power from one party to the other. Americans who want an alternative to Trumpism are seeking an end to status-quo politics. As new polling by Celinda Lake for the Congressional Progressive Caucus reveals, proposals for Medicare for All and for a crackdown on Wall Street “make voters more likely to support Democrats.” Going bold on those issues doesn’t just secure the base, it excites swing voters far more than tepid centrism.
This campaign season, The Nation will highlight candidates who recognize the need for issue-driven progressive politics. As the electioneering hits its stride, here’s an initial list of 10 we’ve got our eyes on.
Ben Jealous, Maryland gubernatorial candidate: The prospect that a crusading champion of voting rights and criminal-justice reform—who served as the youngest-ever leader of the NAACP and director of the US Human Rights Program at Amnesty International—could become the governor of Maryland offers a sense of what’s possible in 2018. Jealous supports Medicare for All and makes connections between guaranteeing a living-wage and building a new economy. He recognizes “an economic responsibility to cultivate the talent immigrant families bring to Maryland” and offers “a comprehensive police reform plan to stop the killings of unarmed civilians and improve community relations.” Friends of the Earth Action president Erich Pica hails Jealous as “a leader who builds strategic coalitions to solve big problems.”
Stacey Abrams, Georgia gubernatorial candidate: In 2014, Governing magazine named the leader of the Democratic minority in the Georgia House as one of the nation’s “Public Officials of the Year,” noting how she had “walked that tricky line” between resistance where necessary and coalition-building where possible. Abrams did so with such agility that, four years later, her bid to become the first African-American woman governor in the nation is being championed by national organizations from Emily’s List to Our Revolution and by in-state leaders such as Congressman John Lewis, who hails Abrams’s work to “build coalitions to protect the poor and middle class, fight voter suppression, and register hundreds of thousands of people to vote.”
Cynthia Nixon, New York gubernatorial candidate: After launching her insurgent Democratic-primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Nixon declared, “We can’t just elect more Democrats, we have to elect better, bluer Democrats.” That’s a smart premise on which to base a run against an entrenched Democrat in a very Democratic state, and the actress turned candidate is focusing on issues that matter to progressives: funding education, fixing the subway, responding to the needs of neglected rural regions, breaking the corrupting grip of big money on politics. Echoing the appeal of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid, the Nixon campaign promises that “Cynthia hasn’t been bought and paid for by special interests and won’t be accepting any corporate contributions in this campaign. Instead our campaign will be powered by the people.”