SUMMARY: Dems are already in the fetal position crying over races they have yet to lose and blaming progressives for losing them. Fuck that. Today we look at three upcoming races (two Senate, one House) that demonstrate how much the landscape has changed for progressives and the importance of primaries. The Democratic establishment is lining up against very capable progressive candidates in key races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas. Two of these races are messy, but hold great promise for the balance of power in the Senate. The third is one that we invite everyone to support because it’s a no-fucking-brainer.
Today’s Quickie focuses on three important races coming up in the United States.
Each one paints a different picture of democratic candidates looking to broaden the ranks of the progressive caucus. Like many of you, I’m frustrated with conventional wisdom surrounding midterm elections. There’s already a sense of failure that has taken hold among democrats of all stripes. Everyone is seemingly resigned to the imminent bloodbath. Not that this sentiment is without good reason or precedent. Midterms are often brutal for the party in power and there are circumstances that are feeding the beast of discontent among the population.
Gas prices are uncomfortably high. We’ve gone over those reasons and how no one is nailing the right culprit here.
Inflation continues to punish the consumer. On this there has been movement on the left to push the correct narrative that corporate greed fueled by rampant consolidation and mergers have disrupted the normal supply and demand relationship with respect to consumer prices.
Home prices continue to punish the working poor in the nation and the eviction crisis is taking root as now all state moratoriums on evictions have officially lapsed, following suit with the end of the federal moratorium in August of 2021. The crisis is real.
The squeeze is tightening. It doesn’t even matter if jobs reports have been off the charts if you can’t meet your expenses. Everyone knows our personal economic situations are upside down. All of the temporary relief packages that propped up the personal balance sheets of the average American are all gone now.
The child tax payments that literally lifted children out of hunger…
The loans that saved the payrolls of millions of businesses at the height of the lockdowns…
Moratoriums on evictions…
Extended healthcare benefits…
Extended unemployment insurance…
Many Americans who made it through the mishandled and deadly pandemic wound up with money in their pockets for essentials only to see corporate America pick their pockets and raid their bank accounts. So we’re back to where we started with little to show for it.
And soon we’ll head off the polls with empty bellies and bank accounts. Looking for someone to blame.
In the last 100 years, only two midterm elections saw the sitting president pick up seats in both the House and the Senate. In 1934 and in 2002. Both on the heels of arguably the most psychologically traumatic periods in our nation’s history. The Great Depression and 9/11. Well, barring some unforeseen national tragedy, we are indeed headed for a bloodbath no matter how many positive jobs reports the Biden administration puts together.
And in the conservative media ecosystem you can already see how republicans are testing messaging.
Reckless democratic spending is pushing inflation.
Biden is at war with fossil fuel companies so we’re no longer energy independent and that’s why gas is high.
Poor people are taking advantage of landlords looking for handouts, debt cancellation and free housing.
And all woke, lefty democrats want to do is teach your white kids that they’re racist and pay for children to transition.
If special elections are any indication, it’s all working.
To make matters worse, most moderate democratic candidates are piling on and trying to drive the middle lane if not veer into the right lane. To appease the so-called moderate base. To blame the far left for giving republicans the election on a platter by insisting on woke causes. What I will posit today, Unf*ckers, is that if we have any hope of furthering progressive causes and candidates in this country, we need to block out the noise and stop obsessing over the midterms. This is when we need to play both the short game and the long game.
The short game is to forget about the midterms for the moment and really focus on the primaries. This is where we can have an immediate impact. If we can narrow the slate to several key races where democrats have a real shot at winning in November, we need to be damn sure that there’s a progressive on the ballot and not a mealy-mouthed Blue Dog democrat trying to appease right wing voters. We don’t have to win everything this year. Just hold the line and swap in a few more progressives in the bluest areas.
This is part of what I have been promoting all along, which is that we need to infect the body politic with progressivism by taking over the levers of power from within; rather than tilting at third party windmills.
Now I know I have yet to convince some of the more hardline progressive listeners to this show that believe the Democratic establishment is entirely too corrupt to monkey around with. So let me reiterate my position and why I believe taking over the party is more effective than attempting to establish a new one.
First off, the Democratic agenda is extremely broad. In this way, republicans have it easy. Sign the Grover Norquist “no new taxes” pledge, pay fealty to the leadership when it comes time to vote on legislation, protect the wealthy at all costs and lie like a motherfucker about climate change, poverty and race. While you’re at it, line your pockets with industry money, set yourself up for a lucrative post-public service career and fuck the little guy whenever possible. The modern doctrine of the Republican Party is just that black and white.
Thinking people on the left see the world in hues. As such, it will never be 100% in lockstep. But if the only big ideas are coming from the so-called far left and mainstream democrats are too afraid to embrace them, I can see why a third party is so tempting. I’m sympathetic to the point of being in complete agreement with the idea of a valid third party. The problem is time.
Our system is constructed around two parties. Organization, fundraising, party structure down to the precinct level. Balloting, canvassing and ‘get out the vote.’ Are we victims of inertia and bureaucracy? Sure. But the planet is warming, the sea is rising and we’re running out of time. In the interest of saving the planet and our species specifically, we are left with no choice but to overthrow the Democratic Party and use their infrastructure.
That’s where I land. But, of course, even this is easier said than done. In that spirit we’re going to talk about three important races that progressives have a legitimate shot of taking in both the primary and the general.
I chose these three races because they also paint a picture of how difficult it is to coalesce around a candidate and a platform when you really care. Again, for republicans it’s easy. Sign the pledge, do what you’re told and blame poor people, the darker the better. True leftists face a much darker dilemma because when you’re voting for people, you’re automatically voting for a flawed candidate. Humans are messy. The races we’re going to talk about today are messy. Politics is messy because politics is the organization of society around certain principles. Society is made up of people. And people are messy. So we’re going to get dirty together because primary elections are a game of inches and we’re going to have to fight for each and every one of them.
Are we partial to Wisconsin politics because of the rabid and honest following of WiscoF*ckers from Outagamie? Yes! But it’s also a fascinating political state that has swung back and forth over the past century though in terms of presidential politics it was reliably blue since going for Dukakis in ‘88.
That all changed in 2016 when the state went for Donald Trump. But this wasn’t a surprise given the state was beginning to turn red in the years prior under the gubernatorial leadership of squirrel face Scott Walker, a Koch Brother invention and union busting scoundrel who served from 2011 to 2019.
Today the state leadership is blue with a dem in the governor’s office and a progressive lieutenant governor in the hunt for the nomination to replace Ron Johnson, one of the biggest fucking assholes in the U.S. Senate - and that’s saying a lot. Johnson has been veering hard right in the past several years as a Trump sycophant and conspiracy spreading mongrel. It’s the first of the messy progressive battles we’re going to examine with some help from our loyal friends in Outagamie.
What’s interesting about Wisco is that dems think this is a real battleground race with the possibility of flipping the seat. The establishment candidate on the democratic side to take on Ron Johnson is an untested but well-heeled businessman named Alex Lasry.
Lasry has the confidence of the national committee and has out-raised everyone on the campaign trail, including the republican incumbent. His financial lead is so commanding that it’s worth looking at his profile for a moment, though we’re ultimately more interested in the progressive candidates looking to prevail in the primary. But first, here’s Lasry from his public survey statement on Ballotpedia:
“I’m on leave as the Senior Vice President of the Milwaukee Bucks. I live in Milwaukee with my wife Lauren, Chief of Staff for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. I am running for the U.S. Senate so I can bring a new way of thinking to Congress and deliver real results for Wisconsinites.
“I have proven that progressive values are good for business. During my time with the Bucks, I worked to raise wages, create thousands of good paying union jobs, and advance the team's social justice efforts. I brought together the public/private partnership to build the Bucks’ Arena.”
His three key issues are a $15 minimum wage, building infrastructure within the state and expanding voting rights and access. All middle ground, table stakes issues for establishment dem candidates and he has clearly demonstrated an ability to raise funds. Now, on the heels of our Hochul episode tearing New York apart for public financing of pro sports stadiums, I’m obviously not impressed, nor should you be. Everything about Lasry screams middle ground. White. Male. Straight. Businessman. Tied to sports in a state where sports are extremely important to its identity. So Lasry is the clear and benign choice to bring his vanilla political inexperience to the U.S. Senate and replace fuckface RoJo.
Right below Lasry on the ballot are two progressives that I want to talk about to illustrate the challenge we face in coalescing as a party. The first is current Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes and the other is former assemblyperson and current Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. Barnes is the frontrunner progressive candidate, to be clear. He trails Lasry in fundraising but has raised an impressive $2.5 million and still has $1 million on hand as of the last filing. His name recognition is pretty solid and he certainly has the progressive talking points down. Let’s look at this excerpt from an interview with Barnes:
“I was born and raised in the city of Milwaukee, raised in one of the most challenged communities in this entire country. Our state’s poorest zip code, one of the nation’s most incarcerated. But it is that experience that prompted me to run for office in the first place. It’s what prompted me to become an organizer, which was my entry point into political office. I served as an organizer for Milwaukee inner city congregations Ally for Hope, an interfaith social justice organization that advocated issues around jobs and economic development, education, immigration reform and treatment instead of prison. And that’s the energy I took into my campaign for state representative in 2012.
“I was proudly elected as lieutenant governor in 2018, which was an amazing experience for so many reasons, but most importantly because we got to bring a bold, progressive vision to the State of Wisconsin. People always say, ‘can you be bold and progressive in the Midwest and win?’ And I’m here to tell you that’s the only way you win. Because folks have been left behind and it’s important for us to be able to make the connections between our urban, rural and suburban communities.
“Too often we let the other side define that debate and define that conversation and divide us up by using this false narrative of an urban/rural divide. I’m here to tell you that I’ve been to all 72 counties in the state of Wisconsin. That divide is not what they’ll make you think it is. It’s important that we all have health care, that every person in the state, every person in this country can go to the doctor and not worry about having a surprise bill. It’s about making sure that all of our children have good schools in every community, every zip code. Quality education has to be our priority. Economic opportunity and doing the hard work to combat the climate crisis, which is where I spent most of my time as lieutenant governor. And we need a more fair immigration system as we see in these most recent days. We see some disturbing and stressful footage and that is just a case in point as to why we need to do so much better as a party.”
Like I said, he’s got the talking points down and should be a formidable candidate in both the primary and the general considering he’s already demonstrated an ability to win statewide office. Just to double check myself though, I reached out to two of our most dedicated Unf*ckers for a ground view of the candidates. I want to read a message from our dear friend “Wild Eyed” Bob Knudsen (Kah-Nooooood-Sen) first to set the stage:
“When Barnes first announced, I made a small campaign donation. I figured if he was good enough for Tony Evers to tap him for Lt. Gov., that’s someone I want to be able to compete in the race for Johnson’s Senate seat. At that point in time Johnson had not confirmed he would run and I liked Barnes’ chances against any Wisconsin Republican. Having just set up the sham 2020 election investigation headed by the recently unseated WI state Supreme Court justice Gableman (who shattered the illusion of judicial non-partisanship), the Republican brand was tarnished.
“Fast forward about a year and the Republican reputation has improved among the loyalists, Johnson has broken his campaign pledges to only seek two terms and has announced his re-election bid, and the Democratic field has greatly expanded with a list of usual suspects with deep pockets. I’m confident that Barnes can defeat Johnson, and that so could a city of Omro phone book from 1982. RoJo spending a July 4th in Moscow will likely be what tips the independent rally around the flag set, and Dems will turn out to sink RoJo. Barnes will however have a difficult time in the Democratic primary. I’m comfortable with his progressive bona fides, but that’s still a tougher sell in WI. If Barnes is to make it through the primaries he needs good old fashioned messaging money. Dude needs cash for ads and social media pushes.”
I’m going to split with Knudsen on one aspect of this in a moment, but overall I think he paints a great picture of the immediate problem, especially where money is concerned. Lasry’s war chest is formidable and will be a big problem if he leverages it in the balance of the primary season. Before that, I want to shift over to the great Nettie McGee who weighed in with a slightly different perspective.
“When the Lt. Governor first announced, I was very excited, until I heard he accepted the endorsement of James Clyburn, Congressman from SC. He also endorsed the opponent running against Nina Turner. He also endorsed Joe Biden, you remember that, don’t you Max? I am no longer sure who will get my vote in August. Much love back atcha, Nettie.”
What I like about this, and I don’t think she would mind me characterizing her in this way, is that Nettie is a purist. We actually went back and forth a bit more and she indicated that Barnes had not bothered to return a survey for the progressives in Outagamie, which turned them off. And while Barnes certainly says the right thing, she trusts the progressive bona fides of Tom Nelson more because he’s known to the folks of Outagamie and vetted as a true progressive.
But these two responses illustrate what I see as the central problem for progressives in Wisconsin and something that Unf*ckers in other parts of the country with important upcoming primaries can relate to.
Let me first address Knudsen’s concern about the primaries. This is where I disagree slightly with his supposition about money. Yes, Lasry has more money. But primaries are more about energy and good old fashioned get out the vote (GOTV) efforts.
Prior Wisconsin primaries for Senate, on either side of the aisle, have turned out anywhere between 350,000 and 550,000 voters per side. That’s not bad. The important part is the margin between the top candidates. This is where it gets extremely competitive and the candidate with more energy, not money, will prevail. We’re talking thousands to tens of thousands of votes deciding between candidates.
If progressives take a page from the Justice Democrat playbook that has helped seat the likes of Cori Bush, AOC, Jayapal, Omar, etc., and focus a ton of energy in getting our candidates through to the general election I believe the populist progressive vision is a winning theme. We just need more opportunities to prove the establishment wrong that milquetoast straight white businessmen like Lasry whose most progressive idea is a $15 minimum wage is not a winning way.
We have to take that risk and show the center that the themes from the Barnes excerpt are winning themes and the only way we’re going to take back the nation and move it forward.
But that brings us to Nettie’s comment. Turns out there’s an embarrassment of progressive riches in Wisco with Tom Nelson appealing to hardcore progressives. And for what it’s worth, Nelson is no slouch when it comes to fundraising. He’s actually fourth in fundraising as of the last filing, lagging behind Lasry, Barnes and another establishment dem named Sarah Godlewski, the current treasurer of the state. So you’ve got two establishment dems pretty far ahead in terms of fundraising and two progressives in the hunt but clearly behind.
That’s the messy part. If progressives were able to quickly coalesce around one of their two primary candidates, this person would actually stand a pretty good chance of winning if the establishment dems wind up splitting the moderate vote. But to do that you’ll have to convince either Nettie or Knudsen to give up the ghost on one of them.
Over in the surreal world of Professor Orange von Fucknugget, the former president recently endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz to be the next senator in Pennsylvania.
Remember that in Trumpland, the only qualification you need for higher office is to be a reality TV star. So that’s what’s happening in Pennsylvania. Suddenly Trump likes Ivy League candidates. Several outlets have the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania as being one of the most hotly contested and likely most expensive races this year.
The Republican field is the more cluttered one in this instance with Oz squaring off against several candidates and a newcomer named David McCormack, a hedge fund manager with a shit ton of money.
It’s an awful slate, which has democrats licking their chops at the possibility of replacing outgoing republican Pat Toomey. But the democrats are also a bit wary because the leading contender there is one of the most unlikely public officials one could imagine.
The Majority Report co-host Emma Vigeland has been one of the more consistent voices in support of one of the more interesting candidates since Jesse Ventura. John Fetterman, the 6’ 8” Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania, who has broken nearly every convention in politics, maintains not only a commanding lead in the polls but he’s a monster fundraiser. He’s so far ahead of the combined field on both sides that it’s difficult to imagine anyone catching up in terms of donations no matter what the republicans decide to throw at the winner of their primary.
That said, there’s still a primary Fetterman needs to make it through and some stuff in his past that will likely come to haunt him. We’ll get to both in a moment. But for now, here’s an excerpt from Fetterman’s first public interview after announcing his candidacy to learn more about what he stands for:
“I would rather not have someone vote for me and tell the truth and what I know to be true whether it’s about paying a living wage people can survive on. Whether it’s that healthcare is a human right. Whether members of our LGBTQIA community deserve equal protection under the law. Whether we should have compassionate, common sense immigration reform in this country. Whether we should end this insane war on drugs and legalize weed across the United States. Whether we should address the climate crisis we are confronting here in this country. You know there’s many things that need to get done and if you don’t agree with me on any of these I hope you can still vote for me because at least you’ll know where I stand.”
So, again. In terms of progressive bona fides, this guy’s got ‘em. And that’s why, despite his incumbency, name recognition, lead in the polls and fundraising abilities, the establishment dems would prefer he just disappear. As evidenced by a recent PAC ad for democratic primary opponent Conor Lamb, another fucking middle of the road dickhead, that accuses Fetterman of being a “Silver Spoon Socialist,” whatever the fuck that means.
The ad caused enough of a stir among progressives that it was eventually pulled but it says it all. Lamb is another straight, white former military man who was a prosecutor and thinks healthcare should be affordable but not universal. Lamb is a member of Congress and a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which we’ll touch on toward the end of the episode. The bottom line is he’s a republican in democrat clothing and the establishment’s answer to an unusual candidate who checks nearly every progressive box and should be the one they’re all rallying behind.
So everything here seems straightforward and this feels pretty good. I firmly believe that progressive issues will stand up against republican messaging in any general election, even one that looks to be as difficult as a first presidential term midterm. But there is one thing that also makes this messy to demonstrate that there’s rarely a case where a candidate is perfect.
Years ago, when Fetterman was mayor of a town called Braddock, he was purportedly in his home playing with his kid when gunshots rang out near their home. Fetterman rushed outside with a shotgun and apprehended the first person he saw and held him at gunpoint until the police arrived. Turns out the man, who was Black, was merely jogging.
Fetterman apologized for brandishing a weapon and regrets his actions. Through a more current lens, it’s hard to imagine Fetterman running for anything other than his life had this happened today. But that’s how much things have changed and, I think many would argue, for the better.
It’s a little more complicated, however, as more than two-thirds of Braddock’s residents are Black so it was a much better than even chance that the first person Fetterman saw outside his home after hearing gunshots was Black. It’s a far more nuanced story than many of the horrific stories we’ve become accustomed to in the news the past few years, but there’s no question it will be a problem for him and a central theme in any republican opposition to his candidacy.
That’s what makes this a bit messy. Though to be clear, Fetterman’s resume, talking points, history of service and family story outside of this moment might be the most progressive of any candidate or public official period. My sense is that Fetterman will fly through the primaries and become one of the most covered candidates as we near the general, especially if he winds up running against a reality TV star in the all important bellwether swing state of Pennsylvania.
BATTLEGROUND: NORTHERN MEXICO, ER, TEXAS.
So we’ve spent time examining a tough choice in Wisconsin trying to choose between two good looking progressive candidates and took a look at an unusual candidate who made a bad decision years back in an otherwise remarkable public service career. Like I said, messy. So I wanted to end on a positive note and go a bit smaller.
For this, we head down to Texas to the 28th Congressional District where there’s a runoff between establishment democratic candidate Henry Cuellar and progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar is an extremely problematic democrat who appears on Fox News, voted against legalizing abortion and legalizing weed and has held strange anti-immigrant positions. He’s also taken money from the Koch Brothers and is a member of the Blue Dogs. In short, fuck this fucking guy.
His opponent is Jessica Cisneros who ran and lost against him the last time, though hopefully the stars are aligned to take him out this time around.
Cisneros has a good deal of money on hand though she lags slightly behind the incumbent who has the full support of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Caucus. Despite all of his troubling stances, Pelosi could only manage a “I support my incumbents,” when asked why she wouldn’t consider the young progressive instead. (Voice in head: Retire you fucking pariah. Go away. No one wants you here anymore. Take the millions you’ve earned and fucking disappear.)
Cisneros also has the support of several high profile progressives such as Bernie Sanders and the team that backed the several successful squad elections in recent years.
So here’s the deal. I’m not going any further into this specific election. The big Senate races we spoke about deserve our attention and in the case of Fetterman, our support. If you can see your way clear to help out in those causes that would be great. But on this last section of the Quickie, I actually have a suggestion. Well, more of a favor.
We’re a small but mighty show. Unf*ckers have demonstrated a willingness to get together in groups on Facebook and Reddit. You’ve shown a commitment to this show both in your time and with your wallets. I propose that we try to throw a bit of weight where it might do even the smallest amount of good. And that’s to support the candidacy of a young, progressive Latina looking to unseat a real jerkoff in a state that, God willing, will someday be blue. Let’s send this young woman to Congress so she can join the squad.
Remember. It’s a game of inches. So even if you feel like the big races are being decided elsewhere and you can’t have an impact, together we can focus our efforts to make small, important changes to occupy the Democratic Party and push forward with progressive ideals.
Some broad ideas to finish out our time together. The first is not to be afraid of populism. There’s good populism and bad populism but they tend to be lumped together. Andrew Jackson was a populist. (Bad.) Trump is a populist. (Bad) But so is Bernie. (Yay! Good.) So was Teddy Roosevelt when he ran as a Bull Moose. (Okay, not perfect.) Sometimes the popular ideas are the best ones and the only thing standing in the way of them is convention. The conventional wisdom that progressive ideas can’t win elections. It’s simply not true. But we have to work together with a single minded focus to break through the noise.
There’s another thing that I have difficulty phrasing in the right way but I want to somehow find the words for. Maybe you can help. I hate how conservatives own the flag. And country music. And guns. And all other faux machismo signals that promote toxic masculinity and badassery. Conservative iconography makes me throw up in my mouth but it’s effective because it makes you feel part of something. Badassery is something that we need to take back. The strength of the working class and unions. The strength of diversity. The idea that caring for others isn’t weak. It’s actually the strongest thing you can do.
If we continue to allow conservatives to define us, our flag might as well have a picture of a fucking latte on it and a slogan that says “I’m butthurt.” That’s part of the appeal of Fetterman standing at 6’ 8”. It’s why the squad strikes so much fear into conservatives. They’re smart, brown and fearless.
Another thing, if you’re in a blue district anywhere - and I mean blue, not purple - and there’s a progressive primary candidate running against anyone that is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, New Democrat Coalition or Problem Solvers Caucus, get involved and unseat that motherfucker. Hint, that may be the subject of our next Quickie.
And lastly, while these are all interesting races, all eyes will undoubtedly be on Georgia. That one’s in God’s hands and by God I mean Stacey Abrams. As Daniel Strauss of the New Republic writes:
“Democrats should remember that if Georgia does buck the trends of this cycle and has overwhelming turnout for Democrats, it will be because of their gubernatorial candidate. Abrams, for years, has maintained that Georgia could be a blue state or at least a more competitive state by registering and activating ignored and unrecognized voters. She knew then that her prospects for statewide office depended on that argument, and now the fortunes of her and Warnock also depend on how well Democrats have worked to activate their voters.”
Activation is the key. Getting involved at the primary level is the best way to move forward in a year that portends pretty bad things for democrats.
The inches we need are all around us, so don’t give up.
Populism can sometimes be a good thing.
Support Jessica Cisneros for Congress.
Here endeth the Quickie.
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Ballotpedia: United States Senate election in Wisconsin, 2022
Ballotpedia: Alex Lasry
The New York Times: John Fetterman, Senate Candidate, Revisits Gun Incident Involving Black Jogger
Ballotpedia: Jessica Cisneros
The New Republic: Georgia Is the Midterm Ground Zero for America’s Political Future