Memo: The Gravity of the 2022 Midterms
To: WFP leaders, members, candidates, staff
From: Maurice Mitchell, WFP National Director
Re: The Gravity of the 2022 Midterms
Tomorrow, the polls will close — and already, 40 million Americans have voted.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been traveling to campaign for WFP candidates in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New York. It can be easy to get stuck on the poller-coaster — but as I’ve been saying these last few weeks, many elections around the country are still within the margin of effort. So let me urge you to find one more volunteer shift, in your community or online from wherever you are. (If you need to get inspired, check out WFP’s GOTV rally with the Squad.)
I’m writing this note with immense gratitude to everyone who has been part of our movement this year to share how things look just days from the end of the cycle. Our mission is to build a nation grounded in solidarity and freedom, not greed and fear. It is the work of a lifetime, but it is also the work of a community, and the joy of organizing is what we build together.
All added up, what we’ve done together has been enormous, and because of it, WFP has never been stronger. We’ve trained campaign managers and recruited candidates up and down the ballot. We endorsed nearly 1,000 candidates across 29 states. We spent millions of dollars on hard-hitting paid media. We’ve toppled powerful incumbents and elected people’s champions. We’ve knocked on literally a million doors this year — and made 5 million phone calls and sent 40 million texts to voters on top of that.
It’s reasonable to feel some anxiety about the possibility of significant Republican gains. But I’m also feeling enormously proud of our party — and no matter what happens, WFP will be in a stronger position than ever to fight for our values.
So much is on the line — but let me start with what we’ve already won this year.
WHAT WE’VE ALREADY WON
WFP has leveled up in a big way. After more than two decades primarily focused on building state power and pipelines, this year we added our first serious national efforts to impact congressional politics — and I couldn’t be more thrilled by the results.
We’ve elected five new WFP champions from solid blue districts who are virtually certain to join Congress in January.
- GREG CASAR (TX-35) — Progressive Austin city councilor and longtime WFP member. We endorsed Greg day one and helped him win more than 60% in the three-way open primary — averting a runoff.
- DELIA RAMIREZ (IL-3) — Delia is a leader in United Working Families and a progressive state legislator first elected in 2018 who sponsored legislation to protect abortion rights in Illinois. She defeated her conservative opponent who had backing from the Chicago machine and big spenders by more than 40 points.
- JASMINE CROCKETT (TX-30) — A WFP champion we helped elect to the state legislature in 2020, who has led on voting rights and racial justice. Jasmine defeated an establishment-backed opponent to win her primary.
- BECCA BALINT (VT-AL) — The progressive leader of the Vermont state Senate who defeated centrist Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, after a third candidate dropped out and endorsed Balint.
- MAXWELL FROST (FL-10) — The first Gen-Z-er headed to Congress, an organizer with March for Our Lives and the ACLU, who came out ahead of an establishment-backed state senator and two former members of Congress.
Even though we didn’t win every race, these five wins represent the largest-ever gain for WFP members in Congress. And now we have an opportunity to add to that roster in hotly competitive general elections on the ballot on Tuesday. I’ll get to them shortly.
We also successfully defended progressive incumbents, like Reps. Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib who were up against significant conservative outside spending, and Rep. Jerry Nadler who was faced with a tough member-on-member primary caused by redistricting.
It’s also worth noting that several of our new members headed to Congress (Greg, Delia, and Jasmine) were previously down-ballot WFP champions and demonstrate the success of our long-term candidate pipeline work. We have often said that the local leaders we elect today can become national leaders tomorrow — and that strategy is bearing fruit.
Even as we’ve added a new federal strategy, we haven’t slowed down on our work at the state and local level. And on Tuesday, dozens of new WFP state legislators will be elected, including people like:
- Sarahana Shrestha, an organizer and first-generation immigrant who campaigned for public renewable energy and a vision of a climate that’s beautiful, sustainable, and equitable, won a primary for an Assembly seat in Kingston, NY.
- Cherie Cruz, a leading criminal justice reform advocate, who drew on her experience as a teen mom and the limitations of a criminal record to win a seat in working-class Pawtucket, RI.
- Elisabeth Epps, the founder of the Colorado Freedom Fund and a CO WFP leader, who, despite a $400k dark-money negative campaign against her, won a legislative primary in Denver, CO.
- Carol Kazeem, a 29-year-old gun violence activist who unseated a 30-year dynasty, campaigning for climate justice for a state House seat in Chester, PA.
- Ruwa Romman, an organizer for the Asian American Advocacy Fund, who will be the first Muslim elected to the state legislature in the state, won a primary for a state House seat in Gwinnet County, Georgia.
There are many more WFP rising stars to watch, like Steve Mulroy, who defeated a “tough on crime” incumbent to win an eight-year term for district attorney in Shelby County, TN. The swelling ranks of working families champions elected by WFP chapters all over the country is one of the most exciting things to me.
Now let’s get to what’s at stake in November.
Before I go into detail on the races we’ve worked hardest on, let me start by laying out some key dynamics.
OUR MISSION — AND WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST
Our first ambition has been to hold a Democratic U.S. Senate — and ideally add at least two more progressives to win a Manchin-and-Sinema-proof majority.
The second goal was to strengthen the power of WFP progressives in the House of Representatives, while preserving the Democratic majority.
The outcome of increasingly nationalized elections has huge consequences for working people. Our futures and our freedoms are on the line. But we’re up against serious headwinds. It’s a reliable pattern in American politics that the party in power loses seats in the midterm, nearly as certain as gravity. Even a 20-seat Democratic loss would be modest by historical standards.
But that’s not all. We’re also up against the trend of class dealignment — a troubling drift of working-class people of all races away from Democrats. We’re also confronting a firm two-party system — against which WFP tests the limits every day — but one result of which is that when people are unhappy, the only way to punish the party in power is to vote for the other one. And we’re up against a deeply authoritarian turn in one of those parties — and a sometimes corporate trend in the other. Grappling with these trends starts with clear eyes.
Our strategy to break the normal pattern of midterm doldrums, we said from the start of the cycle, was that Democrats must not just message effectively but actually deliver for working people. And indeed, Democrats gained steam when they were governing. Democrats were popular when, after securing control of the Senate during the pandemic, they delivered pandemic relief. And Democrats’ poll numbers were gaining ground after passing the Inflation Reduction Act and after Biden’s student debt relief executive action. (It wasn’t just “Dark Brandon” memes. Those were popular policies, and still are.)
So if Democrats defy gravity, it will be in large part because of two factors: that progressives pushed Biden and the Democrats to execute some big moves that are making a difference in people’s lives — and because of the historic response to the Republican Supreme Court’s unprecedented attack on abortion rights. Democrats’ passing big and popular legislation and Republican extremism have kept many races much closer than the normal midterm patterns would dictate.
At the same time, the narrow Democratic majorities allowed some individual Democrats — Manchin and Sinema in the Senate and the corporate caucus in the House — to limit the ability of Democratic majorities to enact an agenda.
A perfect example is the expanded child tax credit. It was a lifeline during the pandemic, but then disappeared because Manchin wasn’t on board. Or the Democrats’ prescription drug proposal, which was massively reduced in scope (and delayed in implementation timeline) because of opposition from pharma-backed Dems like soon-to-be-former Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, defeated by WFP’s Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the primary.
And if Democrats face significant losses, those failures of governance and the Democrats who blocked a pro-working-class agenda will bear much of the blame.
BUILDING FOR A DIFFERENT FUTURE
That’s why, during this year’s long Democratic primary season, WFP was fielding progressive, pro-working-class candidates. Democratic leaders in Congress often sided with pro-corporate incumbents, like Rep. Henry Cuellar. They argued only ‘sensible moderates’ can win general elections. And they teamed up with nefarious forces like AIPAC’s new big-spending super PAC to help those moderates win primaries.
In fact, this year there was record spending in Democratic primaries. The biggest spenders were AIPAC and cryptocurrency groups. But while they claimed supporting more conservative Democrats in primaries was about helping to hold Democratic majorities, it’s worth noting that they haven’t actually waded into that fight. The crypto PACs and Mainstream Democrats PAC are nowhere to be seen. And AIPAC has actively sided with the Republicans — spending roughly a million dollars against Democratic nominee Summer Lee in Pittsburgh, preferring instead to back an insurrectionist Republican.
It’s worth noting that WFP wins in congressional primaries also correlated with increased urgency from Democrats in Washington to win real changes. We’ve seen over and over again at the state and local level that our electoral wins can drive political shifts and legislative possibilities. In 2022, we also saw Democrats take on big ideas successfully for the first time in ages. And those material gains are now helping Democrats’ electoral prospects.
But the last few years — from the Trump years through the pandemic to the recent inflation — have been truly destabilizing. That can feed authoritarian impulses — scared and unsafe people are more likely to believe someone who promises strength and security.
That’s what the Republican attacks on crime and inflation are really about: capitalizing on the feeling of powerlessness in a world that seems beyond control. But the Republican fear mongering is part of a familiar pattern. Every cycle, the right-wing media machine rolls out a new culture war grievance against Democrats — usually a racialized one. It starts in right-wing media, and then gets amplified by the mainstream, whether it’s “soft on terror,” “caravans at the border,” or “critical race theory.”
Democrats too often play defense and campaign on Republican terms. This cycle, some Democrats have not only supported but actively amplified those GOP lines of attack on issues that Democrats are not winning on; the result is that many persuadable voters see that Democrats and Republicans both agree that Democrats can’t be trusted on public safety. It’s a terribly dangerous approach, and it’ll hurt Democrats up and down the ballot.
The Republicans, of course, have no plan that will make working-class people safer, or get rising costs under control. But they’re masters at amping up people’s feelings of fear, insecurity, and dislocation — which in turn strengthens authoritarian candidates.
We at WFP believe the only way to break that cycle is to take those feelings seriously and to tackle the real problems people are facing the way only governments can — and doing so through a politics of solidarity and compassion, not a politics of division and greed.
Win or lose tomorrow’s elections, that’s the mission: build a politics of solidarity and compassion that brings people together across differences and delivers real material benefit to working-class people of all races. Not so easy, but that’s what we’ve signed up for.
With that, let’s get into the brass tacks of some of the key races we’re working on.
Our biggest programs are in four big purple states that are four of the most crucial Senate battlegrounds.
WISCONSIN: With his high unfavorables, anti-abortion and anti-worker Ron Johnson is the most vulnerable incumbent Republican senator on the ballot. After a commanding showing in the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (a founding member of Wisconsin WFP) has been hammered by an onslaught of negative spending; Republican super PACs far outspent Democratic super PACs overall — and especially in the crucial period following the primaries. Still, Mandela is closing strong.
WFP has led one of the largest voter outreach programs in the state, for both Mandela Barnes and Governor Tony Evers, a crucial backstop against the Republican legislative majority.
PENNSYLVANIA: The best opportunity for a Democratic Senate pickup in America is Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, running against (New Jersey’s) Dr. Oz. It’s a tight race coming down to the wire. We’ve built one of the largest direct voter contact programs in the state, focused on mobilizing voters in Philadelphia and communities of color around the state, where low turnout could be a real vulnerability. That organizing also sets up PA WFP to continue growing in communities across the state in local 2023 races.
GEORGIA: We’re supporting Stacey Abrams in a tough gubernatorial race, as well as supporting other down-ballot statewide candidates including William Boddie for Labor Commissioner and Bee Nguyen for Secretary of State, alongside a number of state legislative races. In the U.S. Senate race, as the race tightens, the most likely outcome may be a runoff between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker; we’ll be prepared to roll into the run-off (which will only be four weeks out) to turn out the voters we need, just as we did two years ago.
ARIZONA: Not only is there a US Senate race (where we believe Senator Mark Kelly is narrowly favored), but AZ WFP is also focused on Julie Gunnigle for Maricopa County DA (who has pledged not to prosecute for abortions), as well as the statewide races for Lauren Kuby and Sandra Kennedy for Corporation Commission (which can have a huge impact on climate and on utility rates) and a number of races for state legislature, where candidates developed through the WFP Campaign Camp are in some of the tightest races for control of the state House.
We’re also going big in a number of battleground congressional districts crucial to preserving a Democratic majority. In particular, we have the backs of our primary winners:
Summer Lee (PA-12): Republicans have turned this normally lean-blue district into a competitive race by fielding a candidate with the same name as outgoing Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle. After millions of dollars of attacks from Republican super PACs, now AIPAC — who spent the primary calling Summer a “bad Democrat” — is spending heavily to elect a Trump Republican. Politics does not get any more sordid or cynical than this, but we have Summer’s back, and we think she’ll pull it out.
Meanwhile, as Democrats look to mitigate losses, the major national Democratic Party super PACs have focused on defending incumbents, but haven’t invested at the same level in electing new progressive candidates in competitive, winnable purple districts.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner (OR-5): Jamie is a small business owner, engineer, and attorney who defeated corporate Democrat Kurt Schrader. She’s now in a tough race against millions of dollars or Republican super PAC money. While the national Democratic PACs have not shown up for Jamie down the stretch, WFP has come in big with a major advertising spend and GOTV operation. We’re working hard for every last vote. A win would be a huge validation of the strength of Jamie’s message, against a tough political environment and lopsided spending.
Michelle Vallejo (TX-15): Michelle is a progressive small business owner who beat a Blue Dog candidate in the Rio Grande Valley, but she’s in a district that would be tough for any Democrat, especially heading into a tough midterm year; it was designed as a lean-red district in the redistricting process. However, we believe Michelle can be part of setting a new direction in the Rio Grande Valley. A win would be a big upset.
That’s not all: we’re investing in a number of other congressional general elections, mainly hard ones — but ones where we see seats crucial to any path to hold a Democratic majority, including: one of the top Democratic pickup opportunities, Gabe Vasquez (NM-2); two purple districts in Northeastern suburbs heavily targeted by Republicans, Jahana Hayes (CT-5) and Tom Malinowski (NJ-7); three swing seats with new maps in upstate New York — Pat Ryan (NY-18), for whom we provided the margin of victory in his upset special election, Josh Riley (NY-19), running for a vacancy left by Rep. Delgado’s selection as Lieutenant Governor, and Francis Conole (NY-22), where we’re turning out young and Black voters in Syracuse; and Oregon WFP has strongly backed Andrea Salinas (OR-6), running in a newly-drawn purple seat.
Most Democrats in purple districts are currently rated as tossups or worse. If we win in any of these races, we’ll have made a major contribution to protecting and strengthening the Democratic Caucus.
And we’re of course playing a role to elect WFP champions running in battleground state legislative seats all over the country, from organizer Nabilah Islam for state Senate in Gwinnett County, GA; to longtime Citizen Action of New York leader Lea Webb running for state Senate in Binghampton, NY; to We the People Michigan leader Betsy Coffia for state House in Grand Traverse County, MI; to Lorena Austin running for state House in Maricopa County, AZ.
While I mentioned our work to elect Democratic governors in purple states like Georgia and Wisconsin, in this challenging environment, some blue-state governors are also in danger as well.
In New York, WFP is running a massive ground game to turn out young people, Black and brown voters, and progressives, as the polls in the Governor’s race have tightened and the state Democratic Party has been virtually absent. It’s part of our goal of winning 200,000 votes on the WFP ballot line for Kathy Hochul to defeat Trumpist Republican Lee Zeldin. And in Oregon, the Oregon WFP has thrown in significantly on late advertising to help elect Tina Kotek, who faces a challenging race with corporate Democrat Betsy Johnson peeling off votes as an independent. In Connecticut, WFP has endorsed Governor Ned Lamont for re-election — and while his Republican opponent has tried to make WFP’s endorsement into a liability, we expect Lamont to win, and possibly with a bigger margin than in 2018.
In California, we have a brand new state chapter in the nation’s most populous state. Because of the top-two system, many competitive November elections see two Democrats facing off. California WFP is focused on state legislative races where there’s an opportunity to build a progressive flank in a legislature where self-described “mods” (generally pro-oil-and-gas Democrats) hold the balance of power. Watch for potential wins from WFP candidates like Tina McKinnor, Liz Ortega, Corey Jackson, Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Caroline Menjivar, and Sara Aminzadeh to join incumbent WFP progressives like Alex Lee and Ash Kalra. CA WFP has also endorsed Karen Bass for mayor of LA and Erin Darling, Eunisses Hernandez, and Hugo Soto Martinez to join elected WFP-endorsed Nithya Raman on the LA City Council, as well as other municipal candidates across the state.
And that’s not all. We’re backing reform DA candidates like Mary Moriarty in Hennepin County, MN. We’re also supporting ballot initiatives, including the abortion rights ballot measure in Michigan and the marijuana Legalization amendment in Maryland. Local candidates all over. It’s been a busy year.
Anyone who says they know what’s going to happen Tuesday night is lying. (And remember, more Democrats are voting early, and so the first vote counts will favor Republicans — creating a ‘red mirage’ once again, as in 2020.)
If we pull off a victory for the ages, then we’ll have a new class of progressive champions ready to fight for a strong child tax credit, universal preschool and childcare, and expanding Medicare.
But even if the usual laws of political gravity apply and Republicans win the midterm, the progressive champions we’ve elected this year will have a crucial role to play leading the bulwark against Republican authoritarianism. The same corporate Democrats who stymied the party’s plans in 2021 will pressure their party to join Republicans in gutting Social Security and Medicare while giving billions in tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations — and to militarized police departments. A strong progressive flank will be essential in holding the line against corporate and racist policies.
WFP has been building power for the multiracial working class for nearly a quarter of a century, and we’re playing the long game. Candidates that we’ve helped to elect and organize with at the state and local levels in past cycles — Greg Casar, Delia Ramirez, Jasmine Crockett, and more — will more than likely join Congress next year. And in future cycles, some of the dozens of state legislators we elect across the country on Tuesday will likely join them. We are building pipelines of power for the multiracial working class, and whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s election, that strategy is working.