On Sept. 14, incumbent Andrew Cuomo defeated progressive challenger and Emmy award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon in the New York gubernatorial Democratic primary election, garnering nearly two-thirds of the total vote. This was by no means a shocking result. The RealClearPolitics polling average projected Cuomo to win by 38.5 percent — his actual margin of victory was about 31.2 percent. Despite Nixon technically exceeding expectations, a Cuomo victory unfortunately seemed from the outset like a foregone conclusion.

Nixon’s loss was portrayed as a huge blow to the progressive movement in the mainstream media — and they’re not entirely wrong. Of course, she ran to win and that did not happen. However, to assert her candidacy was totally in vain because of this reality is to fail to understand the extent of her impact and political footprint.

The same night of Nixon’s election loss, six progressive candidates were able to topple Independent Democratic Conference incumbents in New York state Senate primaries. These corporatist, out-of-touch, so-called “Democrats” were given a wake-up call and a taste of where the base is at these days. They are tired of Republican-lite. The Progressives won because people want real, substantive, positive change.

They also won because of Nixon. Though she was not able to secure victory in her race, she served as the flagbearer for progressivism in New York this primary season. In doing so, she was able to change the state’s political landscape. Her influence is largely to thank for these state Senate victories.

Nixon, giving a celebrity platform to this policy set, helped to double voter turnout. It also served as the extra push needed to carry down-ballot Progressives to victory. Also, in what became dubbed the “Cynthia Effect,” she was able to persuade Cuomo to adopt elements of her platform that he previously opposed.

Seeing the immense energy Nixon was raising among base members, Cuomo saw no choice but to try to steal her cadence in order to maintain stamina. For example, despite standing firmly against it during his entire political career, Cuomo came out in favor of legalizing marijuana this election cycle — a position held not just by Nixon but also by about two-thirds of all Americans.

Criminal justice reform was one of the focus points of Nixon’s campaign. Her platform included ending cash bail, solitary confinement and the prosecution of children as adults. In response, Cuomo announced a plan of his own to restore voting rights to parolees.

Though Cuomo doesn’t go nearly as far as she does, Nixon’s bold policy proposals did, in fact, pull Cuomo leftward. By being principled and steadfast, Nixon forced Cuomo to meet her in the middle. Keep doing this and what is now referred to as “the insurgency” will become the new mainstream.

We saw similar thing instances occur with Abdul El-Sayed’s Michigan gubernatorial campaign. Though he was unable to clinch the Democratic nomination, his candidacy still had an effect insofar as moving the party leftward. In response to the energy stirred up by El-Sayed’s campaign, Gretchen Whitmer, the establishment candidate and eventual nominee chose solid progressive Garlin Gilchrist II as her running mate. Let us not mince words: Had Abdul not run, this pick would not have happened.

El-Sayed was also extremely popular with young people. His campaign had a huge presence on college campuses throughout the state. He successfully mobilized the next generation of voters and was able to introduce a traditionally apathetic age group into the political process.

There are countless other examples of “failed” progressive campaigns that nonetheless had a positive impact on the race as a whole. There are also now countless examples of progressive wins — New York House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan House candidate Rashida Tlaib and Flordia gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum are just a handful that come to mind. These wins should not come as a surprise.

Simply put, progressive ideas are popular. For example, 70 percent of Americans support Medicare for all and 78 percent support raising the minimum wage. This is populism in the truest sense of the word.

Losing is never easy, but progressives need to come to grips with the fact that they are not the establishment. Though they have made fantastic strides over the past few years, this is still a movement in the building phase. Failures and obstacles are inevitable, but any progressive run for office, regardless of electoral success, is an act of moving the Democratic Party in the right direction — away from corporatism and toward fulfilling the will of the masses.

The point in all of this is to say to progressives that, if you are considering running for office, do it. While electoral success is clearly the intended goal, do not let the thought of losing discourage you. To run, regardless of the outcome, is to do the movement, and more importantly the country, an immense service.


Elias Khoury can be reached at ekhoury@umich.edu.

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