Apr 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The Squad could grow stronger even if Dems lose big

Greg Casar (left), Jessica Cisneros (center) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Brandon Bell, Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

The Squad is poised for big gains in November despite the Democrats’ likely loss of the House.

Why it matters: The progressive politics that mainstream Democrats blame for their decline stand to take center stage if both trendlines hold. And the Squad-Plus would be positioned to push the diluted ranks of its rivals into backing some of its agenda — impacting the 2024 presidential race.

State of play: As many as six staunchly progressive candidates have viable chances to win House seats this cycle.

The most notable is Greg Casar, the Democratic nominee in a solid-blue seat rooted in Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

  • Another Texan, progressive Jessica Cisneros, forced moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) into a primary runoff set for May 24.
  • In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Summer Lee, a self-identified Democratic Socialist, is leading her nearest opponent for a Pittsburgh-based U.S. House seat by 25 points, according to a poll from Emily's List which is backing her candidacy.
  • Erica Smith in North Carolina, Becca Balint in Vermont and Amy Vilela in Nevada are three other progressives with shots at winning, multiple progressive strategists tell Axios.

Between the lines: Far from being chastened by any current Democratic losses, progressives would be inspired for future gains for their bloc.

  • "In 10 years, a lot more of Congress is going to look like the Squad," Karthik Ganapathy of Left Flank Strategies, a political consultancy supporting left-wing candidates, told Axios.
  • "This is where our politics is headed. Not just as Democrats — as a country."

What they're saying: "The progressive values we’ve been building our campaign around have attracted leaders in this space," Lee, the Pennsylvania candidate, told Axios.

She's been endorsed by two progressive icons, Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

A cohort of 14 progressive groups, lawmakers and leaders is hosting a fundraiser Wednesday evening in D.C. for Lee's congressional campaign. Rep. Ayana Pressley (D-Mass.), a charter Squad member, is one of the hosts.

  • Lee said that if progressives are in the next congressional minority, it could be time for Democrats to renew conversations around what it takes to pass things like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All.
  • "How are we using these two years to re-center the party?" she said. "To really ensure that we are aligned with our base, and through that alignment, pouring and using all of our resources to build that consensus to win on these big issues."

The backdrop: The Squad started out small but mighty after the 2018 midterms, with Pressley and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) joining Congress at the same time.

  • As freshmen, they pushed their party leaders to debate ideas like sweeping climate change agendas, abolishing ICE, providing free college and Medicare-for-All.
  • Last cycle, the number of Squad and Squad-adjacent progressives in Congress doubled with the elections of Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.).

What we're watching: Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley easily defeated primary challengers in 2020 and seem on glide paths for reelection this cycle.

Be smart: Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) said, "Everyone's fighting hard to keep a Democratic Congress."

  • His group has raised $35 million for progressive candidates and causes since its inception.
  • "But no matter what happens in November, blue open-seat primaries provide a real chance of major gains for progressive power. We can get real, vibrant progressives in those seats," Green said.
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