As we’ve discussed many times, as have others (such as Jay Rosen, Eric Boehlert, and Press Watch) the political media is badly broken. For instance, the political media tends to love certain narratives, and will work to create them even if the narratives don’t really exist. For instance, the political media loves: “both sides,” false equivalence, treating substantive stories mostly or only in terms of “horse-race coverage,” “treat[ing] the right-wing media ecosystem as if it were their assignment editor, because it tends to produce exciting stories”…and of course the good ol’ “Democrats in Disarray!” (or its close relative, “the Democratic Party is at war with its ‘left wing’/progressives”) narrative, which they trot out even (especially) when Democrats are NOT in disarray.
I immediately thought of some of these things, particularly the “Democrats in Disarray!” and “the Democratic Party is at war with its ‘left wing’/progressive” narratives, when I saw yesterday’s Washington Post headline – and particularly the subheader – “Virginia House Democrats see record number of challenges in primary elections (“A fifth of House Democratic incumbents face nomination challenges in push from the left.”)
Wait, what? Is that actually true? A *fifth* of House Democratic incumbents (that would be 11 out of 55) are facing “nomination challenges in push from the left?” I mean, let’s not even get into the phrase “push from the left,” which implies something orchestrated from left-wing central or whatever (has anyone heard of something like that, or are these candidates all doing their own thing and not part of anything orchestrated? the latter seems FAR more likely than the WaPo’s narrative creation!). Instead, let’s just look at the Democratic House of Delegates primaries to see if 11 of them are from “the left.”
First off, see here for all the primaries against House Democratic incumbents. I count 16 (although two of these were not granted paperwork/filing extensions by the State Board of Elections, so the actual number is probably 14): in HD2 (Pamela Montgomery vs. Del. Candi King); HD31 (Rod Hall, Kara Pitek and Idris O’Connor vs. Del. Elizabeth Guzman); HD34 (Jennifer Adeli vs. Del. Kathleen Murphy); HD36 (Mary Barthelson vs. Del. Ken Plum); HD38 (Holly Hazard vs. Del. Kaye Kory); HD45 (Elizabeth Bennett-Parker vs. Del. Mark Levine); HD47 (Matt Rogers vs. Del. Patrick Hope; note that as of now, Rogers isn’t on the ballot after the State Board of Elections didn’t grant him an extension for his paperwork); HD49 (Karishma Mehta vs. Del. Alfonso Lopez); HD50 (Helen Zurita and Michelle Maldonado vs. Del. Lee Carter); HD52 (Cydny Neville vs. Del. Luke Torian; note that Neville isn’t on the ballot, after the State Board of Elections didn’t grant her an extension for his paperwork); HD68 (Kyle Elliott vs. Del. Dawn Adams); HD71 (Richard Walker vs. Del. Jeff Bourne); HD74 (John Dantzler vs. Del. Lamont Bagby); HD79 (Dante Walson and Nadarius Clark vs. Del. Steve Heretick); HD86 (Irene Shin vs. Del. Ibraheem Samirah); HD89 (Hannah Kinder vs. Del. Jay Jones).
So basically, what the WaPo story is arguing is that of these 14 primary challenges to Democratic incumbents, 11 of them are from “the left.” Is that the case? Let’s go through these one by one.
- HD2: Looking at both Pamela Montgomery’s and Candi King’s websites, they both appear to be highly progressive. Also, according to VAPLAN’s 2021 legislative scorecard, King is the 16th-most progressive member of the House of Delegates. The big policy difference in this race seems to be over whether or not to take money from Dominion Energy, with Montgomery arguing NO and King arguing YES. Along those lines, note that $40,000 out of the $44,950 Montgomery raised in 1Q21 came from Sonjia Smith, the wife of Clean Virginia founder and super-wealthy hedge fund guy Michael Bills. Does all that up to a challenge from “the left?” I’d argue…not so much.
- HD31: Let’s start with the fact that Del. Elizabeth Guzman is *very* progressive, a Bernie Sanders supporter who is ranked by by VAPLAN as the 10th-most-progressive member of the House of Delegate. Guzman’s main primary opponent is Rod Hall, who says he is “laser-focused” on “economic recovery, job skills retraining, transportation and infrastructure development.” Which is all good stuff, but doesn’t exactly sound like a flaming leftie. 😉 More to the point, Hall’s not criticizing Guzman as failing to be “left” enough, but if anything is arguing that the focus of the 31st district’s delegate needs to shift towards “issues that matter to you most,” implying that Del. Guzman isn’t doing that. Anyway, the bottom line is that this is NOT a challenge to Guzman from her left, at least not from Rod Hall. As for challenger Kara Pitek, she says she decided to run when she though Guzman was NOT running for reelection, and that she wants to “focus on affordable housing, criminal justice reform, paid family leave and universal access to broadband.” Which is all good stuff, but not more “left” than Guzman, per se. Finally, challenger Idris O’Connor also announced when he thought Guzman wasn’t running for reelection, with his platform focused on “increasing public school funding, making free prekindergarten universally available and increasing funding for affordable housing programs.” Again, good stuff, but is it more “left” than Guzman? Not as far as I can tell…
- HD34: The challenger in this primary, Jennifer Adeli, is without question running as a strong progressive candidate, from the “Virginia Green New Deal” to repealing “Right to Work” to universal pre-K…etc. As for incumbent Del. Kathleen Murphy, she’s ranked #38 in the VAPLAN progressive scorecard, which is solid but not among the *most* progressive delegates. So…yes, this one is clearly a primary challenge from “the left.”
- HD36: According to VAPLAN’s scorecard, Del. Ken Plum ranks as the 13th most-progressive delegate. Plum’s primary challenger, Mary Barthelson, certainly has a progressive platform, but nothing obviously to “the left” of Plum.
- HD38: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Kaye Kory is the 20th-most-progressive member of the House of Delegates. Kory’s challenger, Holly Hazard, is clearly a progressive, and one could argue that she could be more effective than Kory or that she would bring more energy, etc., but whether or not she’s *more* “left” overall than Kory simply isn’t clear, at least from her website.
- HD45: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Mark Levine is the 2nd-most-progressive Virginia delegate. His primary challenger, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, is certainly progressive, and one can argue which candidate would be preferable for a variety of reasons, but again it’s not at all clear – certainly not enough for a breathless newspaper headline – that she’s to Levine’s “left.”
- HD47: It’s not clear that Del. Patrick Hope – ranked #7 in the VAPLAN progressive scorecard – will end up facing a primary challenge, as challenger Matt Rogers‘ ballot status is unclear at this point. Rogers is clearly running as a strong progressive, by the way, including a “moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, bringing back the estate tax, etc. The questions in this case are whether Rogers will be on the ballot and also whether, overall, he’s to Hope’s “left.” Based on his website’s issues section, I’d say it’s arguably the case…
- HD49: Incumbent Del. Alfonso Lopez is ranked #10 in the VAPLAN progressive scorecard, so he’s clearly on the progressive end of the House of Delegates. It’s also clear that Lopez’s primary opponent, Karishma Mehta, is running to his left, with policy proposals such as “Divest 50% of the Virginia police budget into universal programs for healthcare, housing, education, and jobs with a rollout process starting with Black communities in Virginia” and endorsements from the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, the Sunrise Movement DC, Democratic Socialists of America, etc.
- HD50: Incumbent Del. Lee Carter is a self-described Democratic Socialist and definitely to on the “left” politically, although his VAPLAN ranking puts him at #22 most progressive in the House of Delegates. His primary opponents, Michelle Maldonado and Helen Zurita, both are running as progressives, but I see no indication that they’d be further “left” than Del. Carter.
- HD52: Incumbent Del. Luke Torian ranks #15 in VAPLAN’s scorecard, although he doesn’t have a reputation as being super progressive or “left.” His primary opponent, Cydny Neville, appears to be off the ballot due to paperwork/filing issues, but I’m not clear that she was running to Torian’s “left,” other than on the issue of Dominion Energy, as evidenced by the fact that $30,000 of the $35,250 she raised in 1Q21 came from Clean Virginia founder Michael Bills’ wife Sonjia Smith.
- HD68: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Dawn Adams ranks #24 in the House of Delegates in terms of being progressive. Her challenger, Kyle Elliott, is running on a progressive platform for sure, but it’s not clear to me that he’s running to Adams’ ‘left.”
- HD71: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Jeff Bourne is the 9th-most-progressive delegate. His challenger, Richard Walker, does appear to be running to Bourne’s left, such as advocating for a “Green New Deal,” for repealing “Right to Work,” for universal healthcare, etc.
- HD74: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Lamont Bagby is the 14th-most-progressive delegate. His challenger listed on VPAP, John Dantzler, doesn’t appear to have filed a campaign finance report or to have a website, so…no clue on this one.
- HD79: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Steve Heretick is the *least-progressive* Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Clearly, his main primary challenger, Nadarius Clark, is running to Heretick’s “left.” It’s unclear whether Heretick’s other primary challenger, Dante Walston, is running to his “left” or not.
- HD86: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah ranks as the 37th-most-progressive delegate. His challenger, Irene Shin, is clearly running on a progressive platform, but it’s not clear that she’d be any more to the “left” than Samirah.
- HD89: According to VAPLAN, incumbent Del. Jay Jones is the 5th-most-progressive Virginia delegate. His challenger, Hannah Kinder, is clearly running on a strongly progressive platform, maybe (?) a bit to Jones’ “left,” but it’s not clear overall…
BOTTOM LINE: Out of 16 Democratic delegates facing primaries (with 1 or 2 of the challengers possibly off the ballot), it looks like one can *solidly* argue that there are four clear cases of challenges from “the left.” In addition, there’s at least one (Matt Rogers) who is arguably running to the incumbent’s left. Then there are several where it’s simply not clear. So, getting back to the original point in this article, it looks like the Washington Post is more interested in pushing a pre-conceived narrative than to actually have solid evidence of their thesis *first*, before (breathlessly) reporting it. Not cool at all…