Sunrise Movement and other Green New Deal backers are touting some early success in Democratic primaries—and even a narrow loss in Texas—as evidence that their ambitious climate platform remains potent for voters ahead of the 2020 election.
Illinois challenger Marie Newman’s upset victory over Democratic mainstay Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in the state’s March 17 primary was the first big win of the year, according to the Sunrise Movement. The group has focused on the Green New Deal (H. Res. 109) as a climate legislative agenda.
A Chicago-area Sunrise Movement chapter backed Newman in a race that gained national attention because of the incumbent’s anti-abortion-rights stance. Earlier this month, a second Sunrise-backed candidate, Austin civil rights attorney Mike Siegel, advanced to a runoff to decide which Democrat will challenge Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). McCaul is seeking his ninth term representing an East Texas district spanning the suburbs between San Antonio and Houston.
“These two wins fit into our broader point, which is the Green New Deal is still really popular around the country. In everything from congressional to presidential races and exit polling, it’s all showing climate change among the top issues and the GND among the most popular programs” Democrats have to offer, said Stevie O’Hanlon, a Sunrise Movement spokesman.
In Colorado, climate activists celebrated a Democratic caucus advantage for Andrew Romanoff, a former state lawmaker they endorsed, but also cited the relatively poor showing by Democrat John Hickenlooper, the moderate former governor who has been backed by the national party and the oil and gas industry, and who is heavily favored to win the nomination.
Hickenlooper barely drew more than 30 percent of Democrats’ support in March 7 precinct caucuses, trailing Romanoff, who drew 55 percent in the preliminary step ahead of the April 18 state assembly. That’s where some candidates will need to perform well to advance to the June 30 primary that will decide who will battle Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) in November.
However, Hickenlooper had already secured his spot on the primary ballot before the caucuses by gathering the requisite signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts.
As a presidential candidate last year, Hickenlooper said he supported the concept behind the Green New Deal, but said it “sets unachievable goals.”
Not All Winners
Other Democrats who campaigned strongly on the Green New Deal haven’t succeeded in primaries.
They include progressive activist Cenk Uygur, who finished fourth in the all-party special election primary in California’s 25th District, and North Carolina state Sen. Erica Smith, who lost to the national party-endorsed Cal Cunningham in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
Democratic challenger Jessica Cisneros, endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, came close but didn’t win in challenging incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar for Texas’ 28th District. Cuellar was targeted for his strong backing of the oil and gas industry, among other issues.
Republicans say backers of the green deal are overplaying results thus far, noting that progressive challengers have only knocked off a handful of old guard Democrats and only in Democratic strongholds for which Republicans barely compete.
That’s particularly true in Texas, Republicans say, where running against the oil and gas industry is unlikely to resonate with voters when so many work in the sector.
“The Green New Deal is going to be a nonstarter for Texas voters in the general election. Texas’ economy is very dependent on the oil and gas industry, and the Green New Deal’s goal of shutting that down would only guarantee any Democrat embracing that action would lose that election,” said Bob Salera, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Support From Democrats
Thus far, the Green New Deal—championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—has been endorsed by roughly 100 House Democrats.
All of the senators who ran for president—Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders but also Democrats Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)—endorsed the blueprint, which calls for a decade-long transition to 100 percent renewable energy and a huge investment in green jobs.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s climate platform embraces many of the green deal’s themes, though he calls for a slower transition to net zero U.S. emissions by 2050.