Kerri Harris’ campaign against a conservative Democrat could be the next big progressive upset

Kerri Harris, an openly lesbian, progressive woman of color, will face Sen. Tom Carper, one of the country's most conservative Democrats.

Kerri Harris' Senate race could be the biggest progressive get this season. (PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Makela for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Kerri Harris' Senate race could be the biggest progressive get this season. (PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Makela for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York to Andrew Gillum in Florida, it’s been a primary season marked by progressive upsets — and Thursday’s Senate primary in Delaware could bring one more.

The openly lesbian Harris, like Ocasio-Cortez and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who took down Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) in Massachusetts this week, is another younger woman of color aiming to topple an older white incumbent. She, too, has presented a full-throated progressive agenda, including Medicare for all, $15 minimum wage, and universal pre-kindergarten.

Harris has been endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, who traveled to Delaware to campaign with Harris last week.

Harris talks often about her working class background. After her time in the Air Force, she worked in a body shop fixing cars. As The Daily Beast recently reported, she talks a lot on the campaign trail about the cost of diapers — $15 a pack — for her 1-year-old child. That’s two hours of minimum wage work, she notes.


Additionally, as she told The New Republic, she has considered running for office before, but financial struggles held her back.

“I actually had [looked into] running last summer. We put out feelers, had a number of meet-and-greets, people were excited about it. But when October came, I had to sit down and really re-evaluate,” she said. “I am a parent and I have responsibilities and I don’t make a lot of money.”

Progressives, as Vox recently noted, have hammered Carper over his cozy relationship with big banks and the pharmaceutical industry. Carper has voted to roll back parts of the 2008 Dodd-Frank Act, which loosened federal regulations on some banks and voted against a bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have allowed cheaper pharmaceutical drugs to be imported from Canada.

The senator also opposes Medicare for all and voted during the Bush administration in favor of the creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


But Carper’s cozy relationship with big industry has certainly benefited him during his primary fight, as he’s raised more than $3.5 million, while Harris has raised just $114,000. Harris, like Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and other progressive challengers who have run similar campaigns, has refused any PAC donations.

While progressives got a big win in Florida recently after Gillum pulled off an upset win in the Democratic gubernatorial primary there, most progressive victories this primary season have come at the House or state legislative levels. Should Harris pull off the upset Thursday, it would be the biggest get yet for the left.

Though Harris has been behind in the polls, so, too, were Gillum and Ocasio-Cortez, and Harris has captured significant grassroots energy in the lead-up to election day. She’s been endorsed by the progressive group People for Bernie, as well as Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, and the Working Families Party (WFP).

The WFP, who has been behind number of progressive wins this year, including Gillum, Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, and others, has poured money into the race in recent weeks, focusing on canvassing operations and both digital and mail advertising, and they’re thrilled about Harris’ campaign.


“Carper is the single most conservative Democratic senator representing a blue state, and he’s part of a corporate-friendly Democratic establishment that is more vulnerable than ever before,” a WFP memo about the race shared with ThinkProgress stated. Harris, by contrast, “is the kind of candidate that can tap into a motivated left flank and also inspire an overlooked and underrepresented electorate of voters of color.”