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How Did Progressives Fare In Midterm Elections?


While Democrats won the House of Representatives and a range of Midwestern governor's races last night, some progressive stars lost. Beto O'Rourke fell short in the Texas Senate race. Andrew Gillum lost the governor's race in Florida. We could name a few others. So did the party, on the whole, lean farther left? Jeff Weaver is our next guest. He was manager of Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and remains a Sanders adviser. Mr. Weaver, thanks for coming in.

JEFF WEAVER: Oh, my pleasure - happy to be here.

INSKEEP: So how is the party different than what it was based on who is going into office and who's going out?

WEAVER: Well, I think when you look at last night's election results, I - you know, you had progressive candidates running in deeply red places and in purple places, battleground places - Florida, Texas and other places - who really outperformed how Democrats traditionally do in those areas. We also saw in the upper Midwest - you know, you saw the defeat of Scott Walker. You know, you saw in Michigan a candidate - Whitmer winning with - who, you know, supports a $15 minimum wage and a host of other progressive initiatives. So I think you are seeing a real transformation in the party in terms of where it's winning and who's winning, frankly.

INSKEEP: Although, you have Democrats who won in places like Oklahoma and South Carolina and Kansas who might be - you might see them as culturally progressive because they're more diverse. They're women. They're minorities. They're openly gay. But they're not necessarily endorsing Medicare for all, which is something that Bernie Sanders wanted people to endorse.

WEAVER: Well, you know, if you look at the candidates who are running and winning, you know, the center of gravity in the party has shifted. And while they may not all support Medicare for all, they certainly support many of the signature progressive issues. Again, I mentioned, you know, many of them support significantly raising the minimum wage. Many of them support not only protecting Social Security but expanding Social Security. So I think you're seeing a real shift in the party away from its sort of 1990s, sort of neo-liberal dalliance, moving back to where the party was in a historical context.

INSKEEP: 1990s neo-liberal dalliance, which is a fancy way, I guess, to say Bill Clinton-ism is what you're talking about.

WEAVER: Well, you know, Bill Clinton represented a whole movement within the Democratic Party, you know, by people who, in an earlier time, would have been called Rockefeller Republicans who came into the Democratic Party, moved them in a very sort of pro-corporate direction. And I think you're seeing the Democratic Party rediscovering its roots.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Scott Detrow is in the studio here as well.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: So the 2020 presidential race may be underway by the end of the week - Bernie Sanders, other Democrats thinking about running. Or is it going to be...

INSKEEP: Is it going to take till the end of the week, Scott?

DETROW: That's the optimistic long view.

INSKEEP: OK. Go on. Go on. I'm sorry.

DETROW: But Bernie Sanders is going to be having conversations with you and others deciding on what to do. So I'm curious - for you, What results from last night would be part of that conversation and would tell you the most about what the map could look like and what sort of Democrat could do well?

WEAVER: Well, I think what you saw last night was the Democratic Party now on the road to regaining power in this country. They obviously took the House. Republicans did well in the Senate but, of course, with a map that was very favorable to them. In fact, I heard a reporter earlier on this show - the most favorable map for them since the beginning of the 20th century. So in 2020, what you're seeing now is that the blue - what we call the blue wall of Pennsylvania, you know, Wisconsin, Michigan is being rebuilt by the Democratic Party. And I think it bodes well because if you look at 2016 - you know, if Hillary Clinton had won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she'd be the president of the United States.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - if we assume this was in some large measure an anti-Trump vote - that means some people voted for Democrats who maybe aren't sold on Democrats - what is one thing Democrats can do or have to do with control of just one house of Congress to persuade people they're the right party?

WEAVER: Well, I think the House of Representatives has to start passing serious progressive initiatives, like raising the minimum wage, like a serious transportation bill and other initiatives that will show the American people what they could have if Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.

INSKEEP: Jeff Weaver, thanks for coming by. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

WEAVER: Thank you - appreciate it.

INSKEEP: He was the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and remains a senior adviser to the senator. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.