I wrote earlier about the efforts to try and wrest congressional seats away from Republicans by advancing progressive politics in what is considered deep-red Kansas. Briahna Gray provides an update on the rallies and other efforts by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in support of two progressive candidates James Thompson and Brent Welder in two congressional districts in Kansas where primary elections will be held on August 7. Gray says that the message that the two gave were clearly aimed at a larger audience than just those two constituencies.
Though the first of two rallies held Friday was ostensibly in support of James Thompson, a candidate for Kansas’s 4th Congressional District, the gestalt of the day’s remarks was something bigger than any one race. The speeches — particularly Sanders’s — announced a unifying theme that felt too coherent to have been thrown together for a House primary or two. Individually, the remarks were compelling. Together, they comprised an unabashed declaration of post-partisan movement building — a rebuke to those in power who fetishize every identity-based division in order to diffuse the largest coalition in the country: the working class.
Where electoral battles have long been viewed as a struggle over red states and blue states — an effort to dominate the map like advancing armies, on Friday, that partisan dichotomy was evoked only to be dismissed in favor of a narrative that highlights the universal struggles shared by residents in locales as diverse as Kansas and Vermont and the Bronx. Yes: Trump is a racist. Critiques of his immigration policy and calls for criminal justice reform received enthusiastic applause. And yes: Kansas went red in 2016. But Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Thompson each emphasized that the enemy was not a color — not red or blue, nor black or white. It was the 1 percent, people like the three families who, as Sanders pointed out, have more wealth than the bottom half of Americans.
Where there are working-class people, exhorted Ocasio-Cortez, there is hope for the progressive movement. Later, Thompson echoed that sentiment. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats, he said, but about working people coming together.
THOUSANDS STOOD IN triple digit heat to attend the Thompson rally in Wichita. In fact, the venue was changed on Thursday after all the free tickets were claimed within 10 hours of becoming available. Estimates are that about 4,000 people attended the rally, despite being timed in the middle of a workday. This in a state that Trump won by over 20 percentage points. A state where Clinton carried just two counties in 2016. A state that’s home to the Koch brothers. A state whose last governor pursued the “red state model” so thoroughly that its own Republican legislature overrode his veto on a bill to raise taxes and make up revenue from tax cuts that had hobbled the state’s economy. In some ways, it doesn’t get any redder.
This sanguine profile is the source of skepticism among certain establishment Democrats, who doubt that a Democratic socialist platform can translate to this part of the country. “I don’t think that you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told CNN after Ocasio-Cortez’s win. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed that skepticism. “They made a choice in one district,” she said of Ocasio-Cortez voters. “So let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that within the caucus or outside the caucus.”
But Sanders disagrees. His belief that the Democratic Party could be a 50-state party is longstanding. “If you had a Democratic Party … which was paying attention to Mississippi, and South Carolina and Georgia, as well as Kansas and Montana and Idaho,” he told me during an interview in April, the party could win untraditional victories across the country.
These races are going to be interesting to watch.