Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chris Rabb's Victory: What this means for progressive politics

As the election season went on, I found myself worrying more about the outcome of the Democratic Primary for a PA House race than I did for the contests at the top of the ticket. This was largely due to the quality of the candidate, Chris Rabb-—one of the most talented candidates to run for local office in my recent experience, a genuine progressive committed both to progressive issues and to a fair, transparent democratic process.

The impact of Chris’s victory will go beyond what Chris will do as a legislator—and I expect him to have a real impact in Harrisburg. Chris won without the support of the political establishment. His opponent Tonyelle Artis-Cook was appointed as the Democratic nominee in a special election by the party machine (more accurately the Northwest Party establishment, one of the more powerful neighborhood machines in an increasingly fragmented Democratic Party). She had the support of all the local elected officials—the mayor, the former mayor, state representatives, city council members as well as the governor and former governor. When Chris first decided to run, most of the politically knowledgeable folks I know thought he could not possibly win given the political support lined up for his opponent.

As the campaign wore on, I became increasingly hopeful. Chris turned out to be a great campaigner, who worked very hard and had a real knack for connecting with voters. He won the unanimous endorsement of the progressive, independent 9th ward and began to garner endorsements from a range of progressive organizations and unions.

His victory demonstrates that a talented candidate who can build a strong base of support can beat the political establishment. Chris won the 9th ward, his home ward, overwhelmingly with 78.85 % of the vote. He won my 2nd division by 87.88%. The highest total in the ward was 91.14% (!) in the 13th division due largely to the indefatigable Anne Dicker. Chris’s ability to attract committed volunteers like Anne was key to his victory.

Chris’s decisive victory should encourage others who thought they could only become an elected official by winning the support of establishment politicians and by heeding the advice generally given to young candidates—“Wait your turn.”

Another consequence of electing a candidate like Chris is that he will be in a position to support other progressive candidates and to build a strong staff. He is not beholden to any politicians who will demand that he hire one of their supporters. There are many young progressives who would like a career in politics, but not that many opportunities to earn a living in progressive politics.

Electing a talented progressive like Chris helps to build the next generation of political activists who will build the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination, but his call for a “political revolution,” inspired millions of young people to become politically active. Chris Rabb’s unlikely victory may be a sign that the political revolution is indeed coming.

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