For the past year, the Democratic Party has been engaged in an angry internal debate over identity politics, which are often framed in opposition to a purely class-based appeal. At times, it feels like progressives are doomed to re-litigate the 2016 Democratic primary forever, tearing each other apart while Trump tears down the republic. But if you squint at Tuesday’s results, you can sort of see a synthesis emerging between Obama and Hillary Clinton’s theory of the emerging Democratic electorate -- in which Democrats win by appealing to a coalition of white professionals and minorities -- and Bernie Sanders’s focus on grass-roots organizing and economic populism.
In some ways the election was the revenge of the Obama coalition. Educated white liberals joined people of color to elect an amazingly diverse group of candidates. A Latina single mother, Michelle De La Isla, was elected mayor of Topeka, Kan. Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia, won the mayoral race in Helena, Mont. Seattle elected its first lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan. After a year in which liberals have been bludgeoned by demands that they abandon identity politics and empathize with resentful Trump voters, the election was a reminder that white men needn’t be the center of the political universe.Yet class politics and identity politics aren’t really a binary, even if they’re sometimes presented that way. Murillo, for example, the first person in her family to graduate from either high school or college, told me that affordable housing was a central issue in her campaign. Overall, Tuesday was a great night for economic populists. Before this week, the Democratic Socialists of America had 20 elected officials among its membership. On Tuesday, 15 more won local office, including 30-year-old Marine veteran Lee Carter, who unseated the Republican majority whip in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Ultimately, the main lessons from Tuesday are probably more strategic than ideological. Democrats need to contest every seat they can, no matter how red. (In the wake of the Washington Post’s revelations about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s past sexual relationships with teenagers, it’s a good thing there’s already a strong Democrat in the race.) They should also recognize that young people are crucial to their fortunes, and make it easy for them to run. One person who played a key role in Democratic victories on Tuesday was Amanda Litman, a 27-year-old veteran of the Hillary Clinton campaign who co-founded Run For Something, which trains and supports progressive millennials seeking political office. (Her group backed both Bennett and Roem.) More millennial candidates, Litman told me, “means more millennial voters,” and millennials are largely left-leaning.