Socialist and progressive women cleaned up in Tuesday night’s primaries

“I’m tired of hearing Democrats don’t have a backbone, that we don’t stand for anything. That changes now."

Progressive congressional candidate Jess King poses with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other supporters. CREDIT: Image via Jess King on Twitter.
Progressive congressional candidate Jess King poses with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other supporters. CREDIT: Image via Jess King on Twitter.

Tuesday night’s primaries shaped up to be big for socialist and progressive women.

In Pittsburgh, two socialists with the backing of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) beat two different members of the center-left Costa family, a political dynasty in the state. Another DSA-backed candidate in Philadelphia beat three men and secured 51 percent of the vote to win her primary, while two women, one in Pennsylvania and another in Nebraska, running on a platform of Medicare for all and other lefty progressive ideas won their congressional primaries.

Taking down the Costas

Two DSA-backed women, Sara Innamorato and Summer Lee, won their primaries easily Tuesday night. Innamorato and Lee both challenged members of the Costa family in state House races in the Pittsburgh area, beating Reps. Dom Costa and Paul Costa, respectively.

Both women are first-time candidates running on a socialist platforms, including Medicare for all.

Lee’s campaign also included ending cash bail, $15/hour minimum wage, creating a millionaire’s tax, a moratorium on prison building, 100 percent renewable energy, universal free pre-K and childcare, abortion rights, and free college. If Lee wins in the general election in November, she will be the first Black woman elected to the state legislature from southwestern Pennsylvania.

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Innamorato won with a similar platform. She also made housing as a human right a priority for her campaign, vowing to protect tenants and prioritize funding for affordable housing.

Their progressive platforms are markedly different than the Democrats they toppled Tuesday night. Dom Costa, who Innamorato beat Tuesday, has supported conservative abortion and immigration bills, and stands by that support.

“I believe in abortion for certain reasons,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last December, mentioning rape or to protect the health of the pregnant person.

“But,” he added, “not for birth control. You should be adult enough to watch yourself.”

After calling Lee to congratulate her, Paul Costa told the Post-Gazette, “It’s not even close. Their campaign did a lot better job of getting people out to vote. They energized a lot of people, and they showed up at the polls.”

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Their wins come just a few months after DSA-backed lawyer Mikhail Pappas beat yet another Costa, Ronald Costa, in an independent campaign for district judge.

Fiedler in Philly

Another first time candidate, Elizabeth Fiedler, who also had the backing of the DSA, won her primary in Philadelphia. Incumbent Democrat William Keller did not seek reelection, and Fiedler beat three men — Tom Wyatt, Nicholas DiDonato Jr., and Jonathan Rowan — with 51 percent of the vote. There is no Republican candidate in the race.

Fiedler is a former radio reporter who also made Medicare for all a central plank of her campaign.

“Being a Democrat is not enough,” Fiedler said in a recent radio interview. “It’s never been enough to me and it’s certainly not enough right now given the political situation in D.C. and in Harrisburg in which so many of our fundamental rights are under attack.”

Jess King triumphs

On Tuesday night, progressive Democrat Jess King became the official Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district, which Trump won by 26 points in 2016. She will take on Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) in November. She was uncontested in the primary.

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King made Medicare for all central to her campaign and she drew national attention earlier this year over the ways she was snubbed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Emily’s List, a group that endorses and works with pro-choice Democratic women.

“I’ve consistently supported full funding for women’s health, including contraception, and safe abortion as a last resort,” King told The Intercept of Emily’s List’s decision not to endorse her. “I’m the only candidate running on Medicare For All and debt-free public college, policies that would hugely benefit women and working moms who struggle to make ends meet as insurance premiums and college tuition go up.”

King’s campaign was also one of a number of progressive campaigns that unionized and she was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

In an interview with ThinkProgress last summer, King talked about why she supports Medicare for all saying, “Medicare for All and single-payer is just the right thing to do. It’s immoral that in the richest country in the world people still die from lack of access to health care. And people we’re talking to are so excited about it.”

A progressive upset in Nebraska

Pennsylvania wasn’t the only state with big progressive wins on Tuesday. In Nebraska, progressive Democrat and local non-profit president Kara Eastman beat former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford.

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Ashford held the seat for two years, from 2014 to 2016, and he fell again to Eastman Tuesday night. Eastman won in a surprising victory with 51.4 percent of the vote to Ashford’s 48.6 percent.

Eastman supports Medicare for all, as well as a number of other progressive ideas, including decriminalizing marijuana, raising taxes on corporations and the rich, and overturning Citizens United.

“I’m tired of hearing Democrats don’t have a backbone, that we don’t stand for anything,” Eastman says in an ad she ran during the campaign. “That changes now.”

Eastman also highlights her support for pro-choice polices in the ad, and adds, “If you want to change Congress, you have to change your congressman.”