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Heading into the 2018 midterms, Democratic leaders are favoring corporate-friendly candidates — even though Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign showed them a different path, Aaron Mate reports

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AARON MATÉ: The 2018 midterm elections begin this month with the first of hundreds of primaries at the federal, state and local level. They culminate in November’s general election, which will decide control of Congress. After a series of victories in statewide special elections, Democrats are optimistic.
RON KLAIN: What’s really exciting about this is that these victories we’re seeing in the special elections, 35 state legislative seats flipped since Donald Trump began president. That’s not because of people in Washington like me. It’s ’cause people out in the grassroots are really getting active and really reacting to what they’re seeing.
AARON MATÉ: But to reach voters, even top Democrats say running against Donald Trump is not enough.
CHUCK SCHUMER: You cannot just run against Donald Trump. And it is the job of we Democrats to put together a strong, cohesive economic group of proposals aimed at the middle class and those struggling to get there.
AARON MATÉ: Democrats like Schumer have talked about developing a strong economic message in the aftermath of Trump’s successful presidential campaign where he portrayed himself as a working class champion.
DONALD TRUMP: Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very, very wealthy. I used to be one of them. Hate to say it, but I used to be one. But it’s left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache. When subsidized foreign steel is dumped into our markets, threatening our factories, the politicians have proven, folks, have proven they do nothing. For years, they watched on the sidelines as our jobs vanished and our communities were plunged into Depression level unemployment.
AARON MATÉ: Since taking office, Trump’s agenda has been the polar opposite of what he pitched to working class voters. But ahead of the midterms, are Democrats offering much of an alternative? In state after state, a pattern is emerging. The party’s central leadership is favoring corporate friendly candidates and shunning those with progressive politics. Lee Fang is a reporter with The Intercept.
LEE FANG: These are first time candidates and they’re finding in race after race that the Democratic party establishment is doing everything that they can to sideline more left of center candidates in favor of party chosen, more centrist, business friendly political candidates who can simply raise the most money and who have shown a history of being favorable to business interests.
AARON MATÉ: In a report for The Intercept, Fang found that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and influential affiliates are most concerned not with a candidate’s policies, but with their donor’s pockets.
LEE FANG: We’ve heard from candidates that the D trip will go out and rather than ask any candidate where they stand on the issues, what are the most important societal or economic concerns in their district, they do a phone test, which is they’re asking candidates to take out their phone, go through their Rolodex or, you know, their list of contacts, and show them that they can raise $100,000, $200,000, up to $250,000 just from the contacts in their phone.
AARON MATÉ: But even progressive candidates who can raise money are failing to attract party leader’s support. Jess King is seeking the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District.
JESS KING: We will ensure that every American no matter how rich or poor has healthcare. We will treat the earth as our home and reject pipelines that enrich oil and gas executives while leaving our land permanently polluted.
AARON MATÉ: In October, King’s campaign had raised over $100,000, but the national and local Democratic leadership has thrown its weight behind her opponent, Christina Hartman. This is Hartman’s second run. She lost the district to Republican Lloyd Smucker in 2016. Unlike King, Hartman does not support Medicare For All Pennsylvania is a key battleground for Democrats hopes to take back the house and ultimately the presidency. But a recent study highlights one major obstacle.
Along with Wisconsin and Michigan, Pennsylvania ranks at or near the very top of states with declining unionization between 2008 and 2016. That decline, study co-author Tom Ferguson says, “is crippling Democrat’s chances”.
TOM FERGUSON: There’s an awful lot of self-deception in the discussions about rebuilding the Democratic party. It can’t be done, I suspect, in any normal Midwestern, Northeastern state while unions continue to just bleed members. It’s just not gonna happen. It’s like a round square.
AARON MATÉ: On the federal level, Ferguson says the 2016 race does offer one ray of hope. The campaign of Bernie Sanders showed that candidates can raise big money through small donations if they confront Big Money’s agenda.
TOM FERGUSON: There’s a mammoth lesson here, which is that we know for sure now that you can launch major campaigns at least inside the Democratic party on the basis of small money. You don’t have to go to big donors. You don’t need them at all. Now, if you’re willing to sort of do a campaign like that, that opens up, you can talk about issues that you simply cannot if you take big money.
AARON MATÉ: For The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

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Aaron Maté is a former host/producer for The Real News and a contributor to the Nation. He has previously reported and produced for Democracy Now!, Vice, and Al Jazeera, and written for the Toronto Star, the Intercept, and Le Monde Diplomatique.