Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

A "wonkish" professor is Democrats' big draw in the 2024 campaign

Rep. Jamie Raskin, wearing a dark blue pinstripe suit, white shirt and blue tie.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) speaks to reporters in front of the Capitol on March 22. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

One of Democrats' most in-demand speakers in the 2024 campaign is a law professor who's as comfortable waxing poetic about democracy as he is delivering searing takedowns of Donald Trump.

Why it matters: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) has campaigned for Democrats in 17 states this cycle and plans to visit at least nine more — a stark display of his rise to top anti-Trump crusader after just four terms in Congress.

  • "We're in the fight of our lives for democracy and freedom, and those are kind of my hobby horse," said Raskin, a former Jan. 6 committee member and Trump impeachment manager who's the leading Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
  • "Everybody knows one thing — and I know about constitutional democracy."

Zoom in: It's more than that, according to Raskin's colleagues for whom he has traveled — sometimes across the country — to campaign.

  • "Jamie's strength is that as much as he is wonky and professorial ... he is also extraordinarily human and kind," said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
  • "Jamie is relatable, human. ... People love Jamie" said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
  • "He is one of the most authentic and genuine members of Congress ... yeah, he's a little wonkish — he's very funny, by the way, that's how he deals with the wonkishness," said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).

Raskin is among Trump's most vocal critics — in committee, on the House floor and to the press.

  • He is also a go-to Democrat for fiery put-downs of the GOP, branding the party a "cult of authoritarian personality in league with autocrats, and kleptocrats and dictators."
  • He's one of several former Jan. 6 committee members rocketing up Democrats' ranks — Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) has become the No. 3 Democrat in the House, while Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is on a glide path to the Senate.

The backdrop: Raskin, a graduate of Harvard Law School and former editor of the Harvard Law Review, taught constitutional law at American University for 25 years.

  • He was elected to Congress in 2016 and, after his Jan. 6 committee and impeachment stints, was elected the ranking member of the Oversight Committee in 2022, beating out several more senior Democrats.
  • His success story has been marked by hardship: His son Tommy, 25, died by suicide days before Jan. 6. Then Raskin was diagnosed with cancer — now in remission — just as he was stepping into his Oversight Committee role.
States James Raskin<span style="color: #ffbc3a; background-color:white; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">has already</span> or <span style="color: #fe7900; background-color:white; padding: 0px 4px; display: inline-block; margin: 5px 0px 0px; white-space: nowrap; font-weight: 900;">is planning to</span>host campaign events in
Data: Jamie Raskin for Congress; Map: Axios Visuals.

Between the lines: Despite his progressive politics and the proximity of his district to D.C., Raskin's appearances for other candidates are as prevalent in swing districts as liberal enclaves. For President Biden, he's spoken at events in Nevada and Arizona.

  • "I wanted him to help energize the [University of Michigan] campus. ... [Gov. Gretchen Whitmer] wanted him to kick off her bus tour," Dingell said.
  • Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade "asked me to get him for the constitutional law group in Michigan," Dingell added, "and it was packed. They loved seeing him."
  • Spanberger had one note of caution about door-to-door campaigning with Raskin: "Conversations become very lengthy. ... We ended up spending 30 minutes inside my constituent's home."

Raskin's Democracy Summer project — a program training young aspiring Democratic organizers and placing them on campaigns — is another draw his colleagues cited.

  • "I basically ... converted my campaign into a school," said Raskin, whose district in the D.C. suburbs is safely Democratic.
  • Raskin said he has about 95 congressional colleagues partnering on the program, as well as some state parties and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His aim is to have partners in all 50 states.

The bottom line: "I pretty much am going where people ask me to go if I feel I can be of utility," Raskin said.

  • As he was speaking to Axios, Raskin spotted Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), a fellow Jewish progressive, exiting the Capitol.
  • "You've got some fans out in the western part of the country," he told Balint. "I was just in California and Nevada, and people were asking me about you."
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