This Week's Progressive Victory In Wisconsin-- And What Comes Next
Tuesday night I went to sleep thinking that Wisconsin's most progressive state Senator, Chris Larson, made it into the run-off by coming in second in the race for Milwaukee County Executive (arguably, the second most important elected official in the state after governor). At 4am my phone rang and it was an excited NY-based operative telling me that with all the precincts counted, Larson had won a stunning victory over billionaire right-of-center incumbent-- he inherited the money-- Chris Abele. Blue America endorsed Larson last October-- you can contribute to his campaign here-- and his race is crucial for progressives looking to build an effective base for the future.
As Lisa Kaiser explained at Shepherd Express, "[i]t was supposed to be a sleepy, low-turnout election with few headline-making races, but yesterday’s primary election provided a shot in the arm for the state’s progressives and just might be the tipping point at which Wisconsin recaptures its sanity."
Abele has already poured almost $2 million of his own money into the race, a massive sum for a primary in which he was the incumbent and should have cakewalked through on the way to the general election. But Abele’s early and heavy campaign spending showed that he was desperate for support and last night we found out that his dad’s money couldn’t buy him enough votes to get over the finish line first. Then again, Abele hired former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate, who helped to turn a blue Wisconsin into a solid red one. Tate’s losing streak continued last night, unsurprisingly.Outside Wisconsin most people who know who Chris Larson is, remember him as the energetic young legislator who led the other Democratic state senators in 2011 to leave the state for weeks to give the people a chance to organize and fight back against Scott Walker's attack on public employee unions. One of the shining stars of People for the American Way's Young Elected Officials, Larson is the future of the progressive movement in the state where progressivism was invented. Even being outspent 20-1, he still managed to come in first against the massive weight of the party establishment. Abele-- who people refer to as "Walker-lite"-- put $2 million of daddy's money into the race against Chris Larson-- and against a family-oriented progressive agenda. Larson scraped together $100,000 from his grassroots supporters. That comes to about $42.00 for every vote Abele got and about $2.00 per vote for Larson. Please consider helping Larson as he gears up for the general-- and to face Abele's father's millions of dollars again. Just tap the thermometer below.
Larson, on the other hand, continued his winning streak of running to the left of corporate Democrats in a grassroots campaign with a great ground game. He knocked off Jeff Plale in 2008, helped defeat a slew of Lena Taylor-backed conservative Dems in 2012, then took on Abele in this campaign, even though Abele is a major Democratic donor, hired national political operatives and has essentially bought the silence of local elected officials and various politicos.
Larson proved yet again that knocking on doors and being confident in one’s progressive message is a winning formula. I mean, has Abele ever knocked on a door? Can he relate to the average Milwaukeean? Despite being in office for five years, he simply hasn’t formed a relationship with Milwaukee County residents, and his record as Walker-Lite simply isn’t popular in Milwaukee these days. Abele would have better luck in Brookfield or River Hills, I’m sure.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the role played by Wisconsin Working Families Party in its first real campaign season in the state. The party backed Larson and a couple of candidates who won tight races last night, such as Khalif Rainey and Chevy Johnson. Again, a solidly progressive message and a great ground game won over more muddled messages. Expect the party to play a bigger role in the general election and again in the fall. And expect the state Democratic Party to become more reflective of the Working Families Party and run candidates who act like Democrats once elected. A Working Families Party endorsement is a stamp of approval for voters who are looking to elect true Democrats, not tea party sympathizers like Abele.
Now, onward to April 5, when Abele and Larson will face off in the general election.
It will be a very different race.
First off, it’ll be a different electorate, but I don’t know how just yet. Both parties will hold their presidential primaries on that date. I’m willing to bet that the races will be unsettled on both sides and Wisconsin voters will turn out in droves to vote for their nominee, whether it’s a Democrat or Republican.
...[L]ast night’s Larson win is a political game-changer. If he’d come in a close second to Abele, he would have simply met expectations. But his win over a massively funded conservative incumbent gives progressives a shot in the arm when they need it badly. Larson’s win energizes the local left in a way that simply can’t be bought through endless campaign ads and political donations. Abele’s defeat yesterday, when Democrats are reminded of how badly the 5-year-old Act 10 and everything else afterwards has stung, is a sign that the pendulum is swinging away from Walker-style austerity and toward a more inclusive, progressive future. Larson’s primary win will have ripple effects throughout other campaigns this spring and beyond.