Election day in an odd-numbered year is usually a pretty dreary affair. Regular races for national office come in even-numbered years, as do most statewide elections–as a result, the mainstream media focus outsized attention on a few contests that rarely go outside the electoral status quo.
The story line this year is that the Republican Right will get a thumping. In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is expected to win big in the governor's race over Ken Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general. According to opinion polls, the two candidates were neck and neck through the first half of the year, but McAuliffe began to pull away over during the summer–a consequence of the growing public rejection of the Tea Partying fanatics, which culminated in the Republicans' political defeat during the standoff over the government shutdown.
But the media's Democrats-win-Republicans-lose analysis is shallow. McAuliffe is a former architect of Clinton administration policy, notorious for his close connections with Corporate America. On the actual political issues, McAuliffe doesn't differ with his conservative Republican opponent nearly as much as people believe. The real story in Virginia, as in Washington politics, is how Democratic leaders have moved further and further to the right, while still portraying themselves as standing up to the Tea Partiers.
And in New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie's likely landslide re-election win will almost certainly further speculation about a potential presidential run in 2016. As the Washington Post put it, "[Christie] and his advisers hope that the outcome will send a message to a divided Republican Party about how it can win in places where its presidential candidates have been losing."
But while the media are eager to play up Christie as a "moderate" and a Republican that can win in "blue" states, his anti-union, pro-austerity politics are, at heart, similar to Cuccinelli's.
New York City, on the other hand, will likely get its first Democratic mayor in two decades–and that Democrat, Bill de Blasio, seems to be cut from different cloth than McAuliffe. De Blasio won the Democratic mayoral primary in September with a campaign that criticized the "two cities"–one rich and the other poor–that grew up under Michael Bloomberg. The enthusiasm for his campaign among New Yorkers is a sign of the discontent with the twisted pro-Wall Street priorities of 12 years of Bloomberg. But as Don Lash and Danny Katch wrote at SocialistWorker.org, the de Blasio "challenge" is more stylistic than substantial.
There are a handful of local races this year sparking enthusiasm on the left, among those who recognize the need for an independent alternative to the two parties of capitalism. Three candidates for Socialist Alternative–Kshama Sawant in Seattle, Ty Moore in Minneapolis and Seamus Whelan in Boston–are running for City Council seats. Sawant and Moore, in particular, have gained a lot of local attention and have a real chance at winning–a rarity for independent left-wing campaigns.
The success of these efforts is directly tied to the candidates' reputation as respected activists. Moore, for example, has been part of Occupy MN Homes in Minneapolis–he has made the movement's call for a moratorium on foreclosures and a ban on police participating in evictions a central part of his campaign. Sawant's association with the Fight for 15 and other grassroots struggles has shifted the political discussion in Seattle–incumbent Mayor Michael McGinn was responding in part to Sawant when he told a reporter he'd sign an ordinance for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, or even higher.
The International Socialist Organization, the publisher of this website, supports genuine left-wing candidates independent of the Republicans and Democrats. We urge readers to back these three socialist candidates and vote for them if they can.
If any are able to win, it will an important victory for the left, with real consequences–the candidates have said they will open their offices to assist grassroots struggles involving workers, the oppressed, immigrants and the community.
More often–and especially in elections on the state or national level of government, where the greater power lies under capitalism–campaigns by left-wing or socialist candidates have no chance of winning or even gaining a significant share of the vote. This raises the question, answered differently by different forces on the left, of whether scarce organizational resources should be devoted to electoral campaigns in addition to building activist struggles and political initiatives beyond the electoral arena.
After the elections on November 5–and with national elections approaching again in 2014 and 2016 in which the betrayals of the Democrats and Obama administration will raise the need for an independent alternative for more and more people–this discussion should continue, taking into account the experiences of these three local socialist campaigns.
First published at SocialistWorker.org.