The demise of progressives may have been greatly exaggerated. During primary season, it became something akin to gospel that progressives were in retreat, as Democratic moderates rode a wave of super PAC money to a number of primary wins. But even early in the night on Nov. 8, progressives had already secured themselves a full class of newcomers—winning high-profile House races with Florida’s Maxwell Frost, Illinois’ Delia Ramirez, Texas’ Greg Casar, and Pennsylvania’s Summer Lee. In the past two cycles, progressives had four big triumphs each time: Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib were elected in 2018; Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Marie Newman, and Cori Bush in 2020. If you want to stretch out the Squad moniker for a third election cycle, we have a new Squad 2022.
Those four races all came in true-blue districts, although none of them was a true certainty, especially in an electoral environment in which Republicans claimed they were competitive basically everywhere. The year 2021 marked the first time that the Congressional Progressive Caucus counted a larger membership than the moderate New Democratic Caucus. The addition of four new members will grow their ranks even further. Despite major efforts by various outside spending groups to move the Democratic Party to the right during primary season, the leftward push continues.
Frost, Ramirez, Casar, and Lee all fit the demographic profile of Squads of yore. All four are nonwhite; all four are under 40. All four are champions of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, adding four formidable advocates to those top-billed progressive priorities.
Frost, now the youngest member of Congress at just 25 years old, is perhaps the best-known member of the group. A March for Our Lives anti-gun activist, Frost takes over the seat from former Orlando police chief Val Demings, who stepped down for an ill-fated Senate run against Marco Rubio. Demings was frequently on the conservative side of the Democratic caucus; she once teamed up with Republicans to sponsor a Blue Lives Matter bill.
Lee, who won a district in the Pittsburgh area, also had something of a national profile, if only because of the fierce opposition her candidacy brought from national groups. Redistricting made Pennsylvania’s 12th District less blue than it had been prior, and the race was complicated further by the fact that the Republican candidate, Mike Doyle, shares a name with the retiring incumbent, Democrat Mike Doyle. But the biggest story was the astonishing amount of super PAC spending that Lee’s opponents pulled in. The American Israel Public Affairs committee, via the United Democracy Project PAC, put millions into the Democratic primary to dog Lee, and failed. Then they put in another million in the general to oppose her, and failed again.
Casar, formerly an Austin, Texas, city council member, won a newly drawn seat opened up by redistricting. Much has been made of Democrats’ collapse in support with Latinos, and Casar, a Texas Latino, serves as a powerful rejoinder to that trend. His campaign also made the tactical decision to sidestep hot-button issues on Israel in order to avoid the deluge of super PAC spending that Lee sustained.
Perhaps the least prominent of the bunch, going into the election, was Ramirez, who spent the past four years in the Illinois state House. The race drew little national attention and little outside spending, as Ramirez cruised through her primary race. Now she’ll represent the newly drawn Chicago-area 3rd District, a plurality Latino district. In the process, she becomes the first Midwestern Latina elected to Congress.
Progressives didn’t stop there. The victory of Chris Deluzio, a onetime Bernie Sanders delegate, in Pennsylvania’s 17th District, is at least as big a triumph as the aforementioned victories. PA-17 was, until recently, held by Conor Lamb, one of the furthest-right members of the Democratic House caucus. He left the seat for a doomed primary campaign against eventual Senate winner John Fetterman. Vermont’s Becca Balint, a Sanders endorsee and a champion of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, won her race as well. Jasmine Crockett, in Texas, is another progressive notable.
There are a number of other races that could prove consequential for progressives but are still to be decided. In Oregon’s 5th District, Jamie McLeod-Skinner would be a huge pickup for progressives in a true toss-up district, one that was forecasted to be won by Republicans. If McLeod-Skinner can pull it out, that would represent one of the biggest swing district triumphs for progressives nationwide. That may be a long shot, but it would be a cherry on top of a delightful night for the left flank of the Democratic Party.
Perhaps most importantly, progressives are not being blamed for the collapse of the Democratic Party nationally—especially after Biden embraced a number of progressive policies in his first two years in office. That’s an outcome the whole party, in all its ideological factions, can enjoy.