As the new members of Congress were sworn in yesterday, progressives were again reminded of our big losses last year. Anytime the party of the radical right-wing beats the party of the center-left, it's a bad day for the progressive movement. But we can't tell the story of the 2014 election as simply a victory by Republicans over Democrats. In fact, I think we can understand a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the Democratic Party by looking at which Democrats won and which lost.
Some people assume that a nationwide Republican takeover means Democrats should seek out moderate to right-leaning candidates to attract more independent votes. Yet what happened this election in my home state of Michigan provides a different angle to the story. And as progressives engaged in the electoral process, we ought to work hard to get this story straight.
There, moderate Democrat Mark Schauer lost by nearly four points to Republican Rick Snyder in the race for governor. Schauer based his campaign strategy on convincing moderate swing voters to support him by making promises like raising the minimum wage by a mere $1.85, which is $5.75 short of Fight for 15's demand for a $15 per hour living wage.
On the same ballot, with the same electorate, progressive Democrat Gary Peters beat Republican Terry Lynn Land by 12 points for U.S. Senate. Peters is no Wall Street Democrat -- he spoke at an Occupy Detroit rally and supported legislation to prevent financial institutions from raising interest rates on student loans.
Unlike Schauer, Peters didn't shy away from his values as Election Day grew closer -- he stood by them, pledging to defend the Affordable Care Act and expand the social safety net. On Election Day, voters preferred a Republican to a moderate, hedging Democrat -- but they preferred a progressive Democrat to a Republican. It doesn't seem that moderating his politics helped Schauer at all -- in fact, Gary Peters appealed more to Michigan voters simply staying true to his progressive values.
This trend extended to local elections in Michigan, too. All three of the first-time candidates endorsed by LaunchProgress, a political action committee committed to electing young progressives to office, won their races. Stephanie Chang, Kristy Pagan, and Jon Hoadley didn't run away from their values as Election Day drew nearer -- they stood firmly by them.
This development went beyond Michigan. Progressives like Al Franken and Jeff Merkley easily won their elections. The national media ignored these contests from the outset because polls showed they would not be competitive. Yet they are important stories from the 2014 election: In both cases, progressive Democrats won decisively in states where Republicans were recently elected to Congress. Even after six years of boldly progressive votes in the Senate, Al Franken's 316-vote margin of victory in 2008 was dwarfed by his 202,862-vote margin this year.
November's results made one thing clear: Democrats win when they're loud and proud about their commitment to justice and equality for all. It's time for the Republican wing of the Democratic Party to step aside. Young people, workers, people of color, women, and people of conscience are taking the helm, and our country will only be better for it.
Sam Wohns is a member of the LaunchProgress PAC Candidate Advisory Board. He was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at email@example.com or @samwohns on Twitter.