Two of the most prominent Democratic socialists in the country see an opportunity to exert their influence in an unlikely place: deep-red Kansas.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 76-year-old senator from Vermont, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Democratic candidate from the Bronx who knocked off longtime Rep. Joe Crowley in their New York primary last month, are headed to the western Kansas City suburbs Friday to rally Democrats ahead of the state's August 7 primaries.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will anchor a nighttime rally for Brent Welder, a labor lawyer who’s running in the crowded Democratic primary in the 3rd District for the opportunity to square off against GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder.
America’s heartland is an unusual place for any political movement with the word “socialist” attached to it to take its message.
President Donald Trump won Kansas by more than 20 points in 2016.
But progressives see potential avenues in the state’s 2nd and 3rd Districts to take down moderate Democrats in the August primary and compete against incumbent GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins and Yoder in November.
Hillary Clinton narrowly edged Trump in Yoder’s 3rd District in 2016. And Democrats have seen more than 20-point swings in special elections in some states and districts over the last year and a half, including in Kansas’ 4th District.
Liberals have argued that to win some of the more difficult races on Democrats’ target list, they’ll have to drum up support not just from traditional voter bases but new voters who lean more progressive.
“If you’re going to flip the district, you have to get new people involved in the political process,” Sanders spokesman Josh Miller-Lewis told The Associated Press. “There are so many people not involved.”
At least one GOP consultant indicated Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez’s trip to Kansas is indicative of a broader trend in grassroots politics of candidates penetrating nontraditional areas of the electorate to deliver messages of change.
“They think they're leaders of a movement, and they are leaders of a movement,” the consultant said of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. “It’s as interesting as Ted Cruz and Donald Trump going to all 50 states during the 2016 campaign to make the case that they can be the ones to change their party” to advocate for the forgotten person's political needs.
“The only way [Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez] are going to get the change they want is to get not just people in New York but people in Kansas to agree with them,” the consultant said.
The pair will also stump in Wichita for James Thompson, a civil rights lawyer running in Kansas’ 4th District. Thompson lost by 6 points in a 2017 special election to Rep. Ron Estes, just months after Trump thrashed Clinton in the district by 27 points.
Inside Elections rates that race Solid Republican.
— Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Watch: Democratic Candidates Raise Millions in Second Quarter Fundraising