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Abdul El-Sayed’s campaign to prove Democratic Socialism can win in the Midwest

El-Sayed hopes to pull off a Sanders-esque, come-from-behind win in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary.

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed campaigns with support from New York Democrat candidate for Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed campaigns with support from New York Democrat candidate for Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Days after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toppled Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) — a 10-year party boss and likely candidate for next House Speaker — in his May primary, some establishment Democrats argued her unabashedly socialist platform couldn’t win over voters outside the district.

“They made a choice in one district,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said. “So let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that within the caucus or outside the caucus.”

Asked whether Ocasio-Cortez was the “future of the Democratic party” on CNN, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) made a similar argument, saying the 28-year-old was the future of the party “in the Bronx.”

“I think that you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest,” Duckworth said during the interview. “You need to talk to the industrial Midwest, you need to listen to the people there.”

On Tuesday, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed could prove them wrong.

Ocasio-Cortez recently traveled to Michigan to stump for El-Sayed, and on Sunday, two days before Michigan’s primary elections, Sen. Bernie sanders (I-VT) drew a crowd of about 1,400 people at a rally for the 33-year-old.

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“I’m here not only because I support the very bold and progressive ideas of Abdul, but because I appreciate the kind of campaign that he is running,” Bernie told the crowd.

El-Sayed’s platform mirrors Sanders’ and Ocasio-Cortez’s. He supports raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, implementing single-payer health care in the state, free college for families earning less than $150,000 a year, universal pre-K, legalizing marijuana, and ending Right to Work. He has vowed never to accept corporate money and to “get the money out of politics.”

El-Sayed also believes he can bring a fresh perspective to the governor’s mansion. At a recent rally in Ypsilanti, he opened by asking the crowd, “Who here believes in democracy over corporate domination? Who thinks that we need new blood in places like Lansing and D.C.? And who believes that when we stand together, when we lift our voices, we will get that done?”

According to the Daily Intelligencer, the tightly-packed crowd responded with cheers and resounding applause.

El-Sayed would also bring religious diversity to the state’s top job. He’s one of a record number of Muslim Americans running for office this year, and if elected, he would be the first Muslim governor in the United States.

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Abdul is running against two other Democrats, favorite Gretchen Whitmer and grifter Shri Thanedar. El-Sayed has consistently trailed one or both candidates — though the most recent polling has 10 percent of voters still undecided — but Sanders said Sunday that his own presidential primary in Michigan two years ago proves the polls are not destiny.

The day before the 2016 primary, he was down 36 points in the state, he told the crowd.

“And that was pretty good, because the poll the day before had me 36 points behind. Well, we won that election. And by the way, so will Abdul,” Sanders said.

That come-from-behind win has many people hopeful that El-Sayed can pull off the same kind of upset. After all, Sanders, too, was “written off” by mainstream loyalists, said Democratic strategist Julian Mulvey, whose firm worked for Sanders at the time.

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“I think Nate Silver predicted that Hillary Clinton had a 99 percent chance of winning in Michigan, and Bernie was able to pull it out,” Mulvey said, in a recent interview with Politico. “So the best thing you can do is have Bernie going in there to help try to close.”

The presence of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez seems to be working. Last Wednesday, a poll found El-Sayed had moved into second place in the state, polling at 27 percent. Whitmer earned a little more than 33 percent. Thenedar fell to about 15 percent. The poll was conducted even before Sanders had officially endorsed El-Sayed.

El-Sayed dropped a new campaign ad that same day that poll came out. He titled it, “Language of the Impossible.”

“If you’re like me, you’ve heard the language of the impossible,” he says in voiceover. “We hear it loudest in the deeds of neglect of the politicians and the corporations who have power… That language of the impossible, it’s there when they say to us, ‘You’re too young, you’re too brown, too black, too foreign, too female, too Muslim, to lead.’”

He added, “On August 7, we quiet them. We show them what is possible.”