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David Sirota: Progressives Win Key Primary Races Despite Millions Spent to Back Corporate Democrats

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Image Credit: Twitter: @SummerForPA

We look at Tuesday’s primary elections across five states, which could set the tone for this year’s midterm elections in November. Progressives won in some primary elections despite opposition from within the Democratic Party, as well as deep-pocketed outside groups. “What you’ve seen is a surprising backlash at the voter level to all of the money that flooded in,” says investigative journalist David Sirota of The Lever. “It’s been a pretty good night for progressive candidates, despite all that money.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York, with Juan González in New Jersey.

Voters went to the polls in Tuesday’s primary elections in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina and Idaho. In Pennsylvania, state Senator Doug Mastriano won the Republican gubernatorial primary. Mastriano is a far-right politician who backed the overturning of the 2020 presidential election and funded charter buses to take supporters to Washington on January 6th ahead of the insurrection.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s closely watched Republican Senate primary is too close to call. Television doctor Mehmet Oz, who is backed by Donald Trump, has a narrow lead over hedge fund executive Dave McCormick, though he is expected to make up a lot of the difference with mail-in votes. The winner will face Democrat John Fetterman, who defeated Congressmember Conor Lamb even though Lamb was endorse by much of Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment. Fetterman, who’s Pennsylvania’s current lieutenant governor, had to miss his victory party Tuesday night. He suffered a stroke on Friday and spent Primary Day in a hospital, where he had a pacemaker implanted.

In other races, the progressive candidate Summer Lee has declared victory over Steve Irwin in a closely watched congressional race in Pennsylvania, but the race hasn’t been called yet. Irwin received major funding from AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Democratic Majority for Israel. She addressed supporters last night.

REP. SUMMER LEE: We showed them throughout this race that when we build coalitions, that when we cross all over the county, when we cross and build a multiracial, multigenerational movement of people of all religions and all genders and all races, all ages, that when we come together, we can’t be stopped!

AMY GOODMAN: In North Carolina, the Trump-backed Republican Congressmember Madison Cawthorn lost the primary Tuesday. The 26-year-old was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, but his campaign faltered after a slew of scandals, including allegations of insider trading. Also in North Carolina, Trump-endorsed Ted Budd beat incumbent and former Governor Pat McCrory.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, Trump-endorsed Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin lost her primary to incumbent Governor Brad Little.

And in Kentucky, Charles Booker has won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, becoming the first Black candidate in Kentucky to win a major party nomination for the U.S. Senate. He’ll face Republican Senator Rand Paul in November.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. We’ll begin with David Sirota, investigative journalist, founder of the news website The Lever, editor-at-large for Jacobin and former adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign. In a few minutes, we’ll turn also to Nina Turner, who earlier this month lost her Ohio congressional primary after facing massive spending and attacks by super PACs.

David, let’s begin with you. You have a piece headlined “They Are Not Even Pretending Anymore: Democratic leaders are joining with oligarchs to try to permanently destroy the progressive movement.” But why don’t we go through the states and the primaries that you feel are most significant right now?

DAVID SIROTA: Sure. I mean, I think — look, I think the leadership and the super PACs that you mentioned really did make an effort to rig these primaries, many of which you’ve reviewed the results on, to rig them in a way to preference corporate candidates. There was a lot, millions of dollars, that flooded into the key races in Oregon and Pennsylvania and North Carolina to try to preference the conservative candidates over the progressive candidates in those races.

And there’s some good news this morning, as you mentioned, which is that many of the progressive candidates seemed to — at least right now seemed to have overcome that effort to defeat them. Summer Lee, a great example, huge amount of money spent by AIPAC and the DMFI super PAC to try to preference Steve Irwin, a guy who had been a corporate lawyer running union avoidance at a corporate law firm, trying to preference him over state Representative Summer Lee. It looks like, if the results hold, that she will win that race.

In Oregon, two congressional races out there, Kurt Schrader, the incumbent Democrat, he had cast a key vote to kill President Biden and Democrats’ drug pricing legislation. He was very tight with the pharmaceutical industry. A pharmaceutical front group put a lot of money into that race to try to preference him in that race. President Joe Biden endorsed Schrader despite Schrader playing that pivotal role trying to stop Biden’s own purported agenda. It looks like his opponent is going to defeat him in that race. Also in Oregon, a crypto billionaire, one of Joe Biden’s biggest donors, put a ton of money into a separate race for a relatively unknown candidate, and a state representative, Andrea Salinas, ended up winning that race.

So I think that one of the takeaways — and then you add in, of course, the Fetterman race, where he won that primary in Pennsylvania for Senate. Taken together, I think what you’ve seen is a surprising backlash, at the voter level, to all of the money that flooded in. And it’s been a pretty good night for progressive candidates, despite all that money.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, could you talk a little more about Pennsylvania? Obviously, it’s always a critical state. Talk about the lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, the front-runner in the Pennsylvania race. What is a little of Fetterman’s history, if you can, as well as of the Republican candidates in that race?

DAVID SIROTA: Sure. Look, Fetterman is a guy who had run for Senate before. He actually ran in a primary to defeat an incumbent and win the lieutenant governor slot a few years back. He is a progressive candidate. He has run as kind of an anti-establishment candidate. And I should have mentioned before, a couple of these candidates portrayed themselves on the campaign trail as kind of the opposite of Joe Manchin. That includes John Fetterman. So, John Fetterman running as the opposite of Joe Manchin in a state that neighbors West Virginia and then winning that contested primary, again, I think that’s a huge thing in that race.

And Fetterman won in a race where there were many candidates. And one candidate, Conor Lamb, the incumbent congressman, had gotten backing from a lot of the state’s political — Democratic political machinery, had a super PAC come in for him, a super PAC that The Lever reported had links to the health insurance industry. And Fetterman ended up nonetheless winning that primary. And so, again, I think that’s a very, very big success for the progressive movement. Fetterman is organized and sort of seen as the progressive candidate. Him being able to win such a high-profile primary, I think, again, against the establishment, that is a significant blow to the Democratic establishment.

AMY GOODMAN: Even as he had a stroke and had a —

DAVID SIROTA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — pacemaker put in on Election Day.

DAVID SIROTA: Yes, absolutely. And I think that’s to his credit, in the sense of how much organizing and how much grassroots support that he had. And I should add, he made the case throughout the state that the Democrats keep putting up effectively centrist candidates — quote-unquote, “centrists” — corporate-aligned candidates, who have trouble winning working-class voters. So Fetterman, it seems, is making an argument that Democrats have to win back the working class, and the way to do it is to make more progressive populist arguments.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the Republicans in that race? Dr. Oz seems to have a slight — a tiny lead right now in that race?

DAVID SIROTA: That’s right. We don’t know who the nominee is going to be. It’s Dr. Oz versus another candidate who comes from Wall Street, are kind of neck and neck in that race. Look, I think Dave McCormick, the other candidate, if he wins, he could end up being a tougher general election nominee, in the sense that he could portray himself kind of as a Glenn Youngkin-like candidate — that candidate, who is now the governor of Virginia, who had sort of one foot in the Trump movement and then one foot in the business community. So, I think Oz potentially is a weaker candidate in the general election, but we don’t know who’s going to be there.

Of course, you mentioned the Mastriano race, in the governor’s race. That’s also a hugely important race nationally and in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a purple state, a swing state, but there’s been such gerrymandering in that state that there’s a Republican Legislature. If the state — and Doug Mastriano is a far-right Republican gubernatorial nominee going up against Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee, a guy who I grew up with. I happen to know Josh Schapiro for 40 years, grew up in my town, who is a progressive candidate who has gone up against Trump election deniers, has prosecuted a student debt company, a major pipeline company. If Mastriano wins that race, the Republican Legislature could very quickly end abortion rights at the state level in that state. And as you alluded to, Mastriano and the Republican Legislature could also send Republican electors in the 2024 presidential campaign, despite what voters in Pennsylvania decide in that campaign. So that gubernatorial race, I would argue, is one of the most important races in the entire country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about something that was not on the ballot yesterday but will be very important come November, is what’s the redistricting in New York state. The Democrats there attempted to basically politically gerrymander the state to counter what Republicans have been doing in other states. That was thrown out by the courts. And now the imposed redistricting lines have pitted a whole bunch of veteran Democrats in very tough situations. Jerry Nadler has now been put into a district with Carolyn Maloney. They’re going to have to fight each other. You have veterans like Hakeem Jeffries, who’s considered a potential speaker of the House, and Nydia Velázquez being redrawn out of their own districts, that they’re no longer living in the districts that they represent. Could you talk about whether this attempt by the Democrats in New York has essentially backfired on them?

DAVID SIROTA: Yeah, I mean, it sure looks like that. It looks like a situation where Republicans could actually make gains in New York. And if you believe the polls at the top, at the top of the ticket, Joe Biden’s approval ratings, I think Democrats are facing headwinds. So you’ve got a situation in New York where Democrats could have maximized their representation, and because of this court process, you have a situation where Republicans are going to have a lot more — potentially a lot more competitive races to run in, in a year when Joe Biden may pull down parts of the ticket. So you may have a situation where a reliably blue state is actually producing more Republicans for the House of Representatives, which could prove decisive to the midterm elections in terms of the House majority.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue, of course, of redistricting is very important all over the country. We’re speaking to David Sirota, investigative journalist, founder of the news website The Lever, editor-at-large for Jacobin and a former adviser for Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign. He wrote a piece this week headlined “They Are Not Even Pretending Anymore: Democratic leaders are joining with oligarchs to try to permanently destroy the progressive movement.”

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Nina Turner: Democrats Must Decide If They Are “Party of the Corporatists or Party of the People”

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