January 16, 2019


It is a political axiom that over time conservatives become less conservative and liberals become more liberal. Fast-forward to 2019. In this "Era of Trump," liberals are not getting more liberal. Instead, they are becoming more socialistic, if not outright Socialists.

"Socialism is no longer a dirty word, especially among Millennials," said Jerry Morrison, chief political operative for Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "It's a generational phenomenon," adding that the Democratic base, concentrated in urban areas, is moving sharply to the left, impacting the 2019 Chicago election and the 2020 presidential contest.

At least 25 "democratic socialists" are running for Chicago alderman, and they will draw anywhere from 5 to 25 percent of the vote in various wards, depending on the quality and coalition-building skills of the candidate, which could aggregate to 4 to 6 percent of the citywide turnout.

The best shots at winning, and joining Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who is chairman of the Chicago chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, is Rosanna Rodriguez in the 33rd Ward and Angie Maloney in the 47th Ward. Erika Wozniak Francis is running as a leftist in the 46th Ward, but she is not an open democratic socialist, but she has a good chance against incumbent Alderman James Cappleman.

There is no self-proclaimed "democratic socialist" running for mayor, but Amara Enyia sure fits the profile, with generational and gender appeal as a leftist and an African-American woman. Enyia is the least conventional candidate, having no government experience. But her endorsements by Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, and her performance at mayoral forums have gotten her notice.

"Most (candidates) aren't even close to 20 percent" in the mayoral field, said a consultant with the Gery Chico campaign. Chico's polling coincides with other media and private surveys, with only Toni Preckwinkle and Susana Mendoza slightly above 20 percent. Bill Daley, Chico and Gerry McCarthy are in the 12 to 16 percent range, and Paul Vallas, Lori Lightfoot, Enyia and the rest are in single digits.

Where the "fringe" - meaning extreme leftists and the pro-Trump Republican right - go in the mayoral race can be critical in providing the boost that pits or keeps a candidate in the 20s, among the top two, and into the runoff.

It should be remembered that Chicago's Republicans are a political fringe, not a political force. But they constitute 12 to 20 percent of the voter pool. Donald Trump got 135,317 votes, or 12.4 percent, in 2016, Bruce Rauner got 135,341 votes, or 20.6 percent, in 2014 and 135,028 votes, or 15.2 percent, in 2018. So there is a solid Republican base of about 135,000. There is also a fringe within that fringe - namely: the social conservatives, whose candidate got 14,267 votes to Rauner's 16,617 votes in the 2018 primary.

If the Feb. 26 turnout is around 950,000, the 135,000-vote Republican base is critical. If they coalesce behind McCarthy, the most conservative, pro-law-and-order candidate, it could boost him to be number two.

It should also be remembered that Bernie Sanders, Vermont's U.S. senator and self-professed Socialist, ran for president in the 2016 Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton and garnered 320,894 votes, or 45.3 percent, to Clinton's 380,208 votes, or 53.7 percent. Sanders won 26 of 50 city wards, all of the 15 Hispanic wards (1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 22, 25, 26, 30, 31, 33, 35 and 36), and four of eight white north Lakefront wards (47, 48, 49 and 50). He also carried, albeit narrowly, the far Northwest Side 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st and 45th wards, disproving the notion that voters therein are predictable conservatives. Sanders' voters were not embracing the candidate's leftist views, but rather were rejecting Clinton's tepidly liberal, opportunistic, status quo, establishment credentials, embracing Sanders because he was not Clinton. Sanders supports a single-payer healthcare plan, a socialistic scheme wherein government pays for everything, but that is now accepted as an imminent reality, or at least a post-Trump reality. As Howard Dean once famously said, he was from the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," meaning liberals who brooked no accommodation. There are lot of liberals/progressives who don't think the Democratic Party is liberal and progressive enough, and they voted for Sanders. That equates to 320,000 votes in Chicago, about 30 percent of the Feb. 26 turnout, and they will opt for the most identifiably liberal candidate, but none has thus far emerged.

Clinton's 2016 dilemma was that she needed to appeal to the Democrats' left wing and minority base while still appealing to the more moderate political center, where general elections are won. The same premise applies to Chicago, where the trick is to assemble either a center-left (moderately liberal) base or a far-left (very liberal) base, and then be able to move on to the April 3 runoff and win by assembling a more moderate coalition. In the 2015 Emanuel-Garcia contest, the mayor won because he cobbled together a white ethnic/white Lakefront/black base, while Garcia got the Hispanics and ideological liberals. Emanuel won 332,171-256,562, or 56.2 percent, in a 590,733 turnout, which was 500,000 less than 2016's 1,090,343.

Garcia won 22 of 50 wards, gathering a unique coalition of Hispanics and white ethnics, while Emanuel won the African American and north white Lakefront wards, winning heavily in the 42nd, (84.7 percent), 43rd (83.4 percent), 44th (76.3 percent), 46th (64.7 percent), 48th (59.4 percent) and 50th (60.9 percent) wards, losing only the Rogers Park 49th Ward. He carried most black wards with 55 to 60 percent. That type of coalition can be built only in a two-candidate runoff.

There are various Chicago Democratic constituencies, many of whom have contrary goals. The public sector unions (SEIU, AFSCME) have a different priority from the trades' (CFL) and the police and firefighter unions. The conservative white voters in the outlying Northwest Side and Southwest Sides have very different economic and lifestyle outlooks from white voters along the Lakefront and in gentrifying areas. First responders, who reside largely in the outlying wards, will gravitate toward McCarthy. Blacks and Hispanics are subliminal rivals, as both want to seize the seat of power...and neither wants the other to seize it before they do. If there were a Preckwinkle-Daley/ McCarthy/Vallas runoff, Hispanics would gravitate toward the white guy. If there were a Preckwinkle-Mendoza runoff, leftist whites would be befuddled, especially if Preckwinkle has more ethical issues, but the more conservative would opt for Mendoza. If there were a Mendoza/ white guy runoff, African Americans would be inclined to not vote at all. (As an aside, virtually every campaign tells me that Preckwinkle's polling numbers are dropping like a rock.)

Union endorsements will be important in ward races, said Morrison. A candidate will have an edge if he or she gets SEIU, AFSCME, CTU and CFL endorsements. Police and Firefighter endorsements will have an impact in the 41st, 45th and 39th wards. The SEIU's three divisions, Local 1, public sector and healthcare, have already pumped $2 million into Preckwinkle's campaign, mostly for naught. With 40-odd days to go, and with polls showing an undecided of 30 to 35 percent of voters, the second-tier mayoral candidates (Daley, Vallas, McCarthy, Wilson) have room to grow, while the top tier (Preckwinkle, Mendoza) have room to collapse.

But it will be the fringes - the socialist/Sanders left and the Trump/Republican right - who will provide the critical votes on Feb. 26.

On a related note:

"Progressives" are what mainstream Democratic liberals call themselves, eschewing the pejorative term "liberal." Now even "progressive" is deemed tepid and timid. Webster's Dictionary defines a "liberal" as one (a) "favoring political reforms tending toward the individual and democracy" and (b) "tolerance of others' views," as well (c) "challenging traditions and institutions." Not anymore. In this era of political correctness, modifications are necessary: (a) would be "...tending toward more government controls..." and (b) would be "...intolerance..." of others who disagree. A "progressive" is one "favoring ... improvements through political or social reform."

A "Socialist" is one who believes in the "ownership and operation of the means of production" by government rather than individuals or corporations, with socialism as the intermediate stage "coming between the capitalist stage and the communist stage," according to Marx-Engels doctrine. And a "democratic socialist" (in lower-case), therefore, can be defined as an anti-capitalist who wants to use America's existing political system to put into power those who will endeavor not to FIX the capitalist economic system but rather ELIMINATE as much of it as possible as quickly as possible.

These definitions will have an impact on the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. The issue will not be who is the most electable. Instead, it will be who is the most acceptable to the left-leaning, increasingly generational and urbanized Democratic base. That means Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, not Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo.

The Trump presidency has crystallized and expanded the Democratic base, but if that base picks a 2020 candidate too far to the left, the Trump presidency may extend through 2025.