Christine Pellegrino did not just declare victory after a remarkable special-election win that saw her flip a historically Republican New York State Assembly seat to the Democratic column on Tuesday. The elementary-school teacher turned candidate announced that Long Island was sending a message that will resonate far beyond a legislative district that backed Donald Trump last fall but that has now will be represented by a bold progressive activist.
“This is a thunderbolt of resistance,” announced Pellegrino, a union activist and 2016 Bernie Sanders delegate who had just won what was being described as a “stunning” victory. “This is for all the supporters and voters who understand a strong progressive agenda is the way forward in New York.”
Pellegrino is being modest. In combination with a New Hampshire special-election win on Tuesday (after which the state Democratic Party announced that “Democrat Edie DesMarais…became the first ever Democrat elected in Wolfeboro”), the New York result sends a national message.
“Bold progressive populism that puts working people’s issues front and center—this is how we win in Trump country,” declared Bill Lipton, the New York State director of the Working Families Party, which joined the New York State United Teachers union in providing energetic grassroots support for Pellegrino’s run. “This is an amazing night for the New York State United Teachers and the entire progressive movement.”
He’s right. New York’s 9th Assembly District is one of 710 state legislative districts nationwide that have been identified by the Ballotpedia website as including all or part of so-called “Pivot Counties,” which “voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016.” As of April 2017, the website explains, “477 state house districts and 233 state senate districts intersected with these Pivot Counties. This includes districts that intersected with only small portions of a county as well as districts that overlapped with multiple counties. These 710 state legislative districts account for approximately 10 percent of all state legislative districts in the country.”
These are places that Democrats must win to begin reversing the setbacks of 2016. On paper, they might look like hard places to prevail. As Newsday noted, “Typically, Democrats would hardly compete in the 9th, a horseshoe-shaped district on the Nassau-Suffolk county line that includes Massapequa, West Babylon, Babylon Village, West Islip and West Bay Shore.”