Over the past six months, three women running in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primaries have grown to be close friends. Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato, and Elizabeth Fiedler are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the hard-left organization founded in 1982 and revitalized by Bernie Sanders. Like many millennial Democrats, they’ve been drawn to the D.S.A. in response to what they view as their party’s failure to address the needs of people like them.
Lee, who is thirty years old, was jobless when she graduated from Howard University Law School, in 2005, and moved home to live with her mom and find work as a political organizer. Innamorato, who is thirty-two, feared that she wouldn’t be able to afford college, after her mother left her father, who was suffering from an opioid addiction, but she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and went to work at Apple. Fiedler, who is thirty-seven and the mother of an eleven-month-old and a three-year-old, struggled to find health care last summer when she left her job in Philadelphia public radio to run for office.
Their races, each in districts of roughly sixty thousand people, were small, but the outcomes were to serve as a nationwide referendum on which direction the Democrats should go. “Conventional wisdom is that you have to govern near the middle,” Joseph Sabino Mistick, a law professor at Duquesne University and a Pennsylvania political analyst, said of the Democrats, last night, as he awaited returns. This is what the Party had recently done in Trump country, with moderates like Conor Lamb. “That’s the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party: should it go left, to its F.D.R. roots, or to the center, which is more advantageous? It’s playing out on a national level, but here on a local level, too.”
These candidates were risking running against popular Democratic old-timers—Lee and Innamorato were taking on two cousins, Paul and Dom Costa, members of a powerful Pittsburgh political family—on platforms calling for radical change to the status quo. None of them were fighting for Trump country; all three lived in deep-blue districts, where labor unions had helped keep the Democratic Party strong. If they won the primary, they were assured a seat. But in many ways Pittsburgh is socially conservative. For all of the D.S.A.’s aspirational, left-wing, populist platform—universal health care, a clean environment, a fair living wage—no one knew whether that messaging would