- Eric Adams became the latest moderate Democrat to triumph among a field of far more liberal candidates, pointing to a recent trend of the party’s most reliable voters bucking progressives for those holding more centrist views despite their lower profile.
- His win follows moderate victories in Democratic primaries across the country. Special elections in Louisiana and New Mexico saw low-profile moderates prevail over progressive challengers, despite the districts encompassing New Orleans and Albuquerque, each state’s largest city, respectively.
- Adams’ win in America’s largest city suggests that candidates do not necessarily need to adopt sweeping points like “defund the police” or employ extensive social media operations to necessarily win liberal, or even progressive, voters: “Social media does not pick a candidate,” Adams said June 22. “People on social security pick a candidate.”
Eric Adams became the latest moderate Democrat to triumph among a field of far more liberal candidates, pointing to a recent trend of the party’s most reliable voters bucking progressives for those holding more centrist views despite their lower profile.
Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President and a former NYPD officer, centered his campaign around lowering the city’s rising crime rate and improving — not defunding — its police department. His message led him to win every borough except Manhattan, the wealthiest of the city’s five, even as he had exponentially fewer Twitter followers than some of his rivals and the prominent progressives who endorsed them.
Adams won the Democratic primary with just over 50% of the vote after the ranked-choice voting process concluded, but was ranked third on over 30% of ballots among the eight-candidate field. Maya Wiley, the leading progressive candidate in New York City’s mayoral race, ultimately finished third.
His win follows moderate victories in Democratic congressional and gubernatorial primaries across the country. Special elections in Louisiana and New Mexico saw low-profile, pragmatic moderates prevail over progressive challengers and Republicans alike, despite the districts encompassing New Orleans and Albuquerque, each state’s largest city, respectively.
In Virginia, former establishment Gov. Terry McAuliffe sailed through his Democratic primary in June, winning over 60% of the vote across the five-candidate field.
The wins come less than a year after President Joe Biden defeated more liberal opponents in the Democratic primaries, ultimately winning November’s election with a constituency disproportionately reliant on married men and veteran households — both moderate to conservative groups — as well as progressive voters.
“We almost lost races we shouldn’t have lost. Defund the police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t ever say socialism ever again,” Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, whose district extends rural and exurban Virginia to Richmond, the state capital, reportedly said in November. “If we run this race again we will get fucking torn apart again in 2022.”
Some progressives already holding citywide offices have faced pushback as well, especially in cities facing rising crime. Progressive district attorneys in both San Francisco and Los Angeles are facing recall efforts, joined by none other than California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, whom over a dozen Republicans are vying to unseat despite the state being one of the most liberal in the country.
California voters last November also rejected an effort to reinstate affirmative action, shooting down Proposition 16 by over 10 points as it voted for Biden by nearly 30. Voters in Washington, another liberal state, opted to repeal four separate tax increases as Biden beat former President Donald Trump by 20.
Progressives have not come up short in every recent election. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman all ousted high-profile, veteran moderates in 2018 and 2020. In May, Philadelphia’s progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner, cruised to all but certain reelection after beating his police-backed challenger, while across the state in Pittsburgh progressive state Rep. Ed Gainey ousted Bill Peduto, the city’s incumbent Democratic mayor.
Late last month, self-described socialist India Walton ousted incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, though Brown did not help himself by continuously discounting her campaign and refusing to debate her in the weeks before the election.
Adams ultimately credited his win in America’s largest city not to his refusal to adopt sweeping points like “defund the police” or “Medicare-for-All,” but to his on-the-ground, kitchen table campaign that ultimately secured votes from progressives, moderates and conservatives alike.
“Social media does not pick a candidate,” Adams said after the election kicked off on June 22. “People on social security pick a candidate. I don’t care about what people tweet. I care about the people I meet on the street.”
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