When workers at Michigan’s SKLD Bloomfield Hills Nursing Home launched a strike for improved working conditions last Monday, they did not stand alone. Their represen, Andy Levin, was right there with them. And it wasn’t just a quick stop on the picket line for Levin. He came to march, wearing his “Unions For All” T-shirt and jeans. He raised a clenched fist, jumped in behind the Service Employees International Union’s “Respect Us! Protect Us! Pay Us!” banner, and joined the chant of “Ain’t no party like a union party, ’cause the union party don’t stop.” Finally, he told the crowd, “The whole community stands with these of workers in the name of dignity, respect, and good patient care.”
It was a show of solidarity that was typical of Levin, a veteran labor organizer with the SEIU and the AFL-CIO who has adopted a classic inside-outside strategy since his election to Congress in 2018. It has made him, in the words of former Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen, “by far the best labor member of the House, and a progressive with an amazing environmental record.” A proud member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Levin has been at the forefront of legislative fights for workers’ rights, immigrant rights, voting rights, and abortion rights; and he has gotten high marks for identifying avenues for cooperation between unions and activists on climate issues. At the same time, Levin has remained a frontline activist, marching shoulder-to-shoulder with the working people of Michigan and with grassroots organizers across the country.
Levin’s approach is similar to the one embraced by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. So it comes as no surprise that Sanders is an outspoken backer of Levin’s reelection bid in a hotly contested August 2 Democratic primary. “Andy Levin is a strong pro-labor voice in Congress, and he is the only Democrat in the race who understands that we have to be a party of the working class,” said Sanders. “He is not afraid of taking on powerful special interests, and I am proud to stand with him.”
But taking on the special interests carries a political cost.
As he seeks a new term, Levin is being massively outspent by a corporate-friendly Democrat, Representative Haley Stevens, and the amply funded outside groups that support her.
Forced into a race against each other by redistricting, Levin and Stevens are both incumbents. The August 2 primary in this safe Democratic district will decide which one of these two-term incumbents gets to continue serving in the House. But not all Democrats are alike, as billionaire donors and corporate special interests are well aware. So they have been pouring money into the campaign to save Stevens, a centrist “New Democrat” who has attracted backing from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Emily’s List, as well as corporate interests. In 2020, for instance, Stevens enjoyed the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce. As The Detroit News has noted, the Chamber “has historically backed pro-business Republican candidates,” but Stevens earned their favor because of her advocacy for controversial free-trade agreements and other Wall Street priorities.
Three weeks out from Michigan’s Democratic primary, the Open Secrets campaign-spending watchdog group reported that Stevens had raised $3.6 million for the primary fight, while Levin had banked $2 million. Stevens—who has collected tens of thousands of dollars from individuals and organizations associated with JPMorgan Chase, GPS Investment Partners, and Alphabet Inc. (the holding company for Google and its subsidiaries)—had more money in the bank for her bid’s final push than Levin had raised through the entire campaign. That’s because Stevens has also enjoyed massive outside spending on her behalf: $1,924,666 by the start of this week, as compared with $181,258 for Levin.
Almost half the outside spending for Stevens, and against Levin, came from the United Democracy Project, a political action committee associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that has been in the forefront of efforts to defeat progressives running this year, including Maryland’s Donna Edwards, Pennsylvania’s Summer Lee, and Texas’s Jessica Cisneros. Levin, who is Jewish and has spent time in Israel, is a supporter of Middle East peace, and has taken positions on the conflict between Israel and Palestine that parallel the stance that polling suggests is embraced by most American Jews. He’s also a labor-backed progressive who has championed economic, social, and racial justice on the domestic front. Stevens, who is not Jewish, is more inclined toward the hardline positions favored by AIPAC and its donors.
AIPAC is also supporting dozens of insurrectionist Republicans this year, including Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, and white nationalist proponents of the “great replacement” theory such as Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
This week, J Street, the mainstream “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group that supports peace initiatives in the Middle East, announced that it will spend $700,000 on television ads to shore up Levin’s bid. But if other races where AIPAC has sought to beat progressive Democrats are indicative of what’s to come, it’s a good bet that more United Democracy Project money will flow to Stevens and will be augmented by corporate donations and spending by groups such as the corporate-aligned New Democratic Coalition PAC.
But if people power can beat money, then Levin’s prospects are good. In addition to Sanders’s support, Senator Elizabeth Warren cut a TV ad where she focused on the congressman’s support for abortion rights and gun control and identified Levin as “the true progressive in this race.” The congressman also has received endorsements from Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and more than a dozen other House members, including House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and House Labor Caucus leader Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), along with union groups such as SEIU, UNITE HERE, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Communications Workers of America, and National Nurses United. He’s also backed by the Sunrise Movement, Food & Water Action, Peace Action, the Working Families Party, Indivisible, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood Action.
With confidence in his progressive values and a massive canvassing effort, Levin isn’t backing down from the challenge. “I don’t care how much money they spend to try to defeat us,” he said, “we’re going to win on August 2 by standing up for what we believe in and putting in the footwork.”