Virginia Socialist Pulls off Rare Feat of Losing Two Primaries in a Single Election Night

Lee Carter campaigning
Virginia state Del. Lee Carter is one of the most visible (supposedly democratic) socialists anywhere in the country, outside of DC.

Carter, who burst onto the political scene in Virginia in 2017 by winning a seat in the VA House of Delegates at a time the Bernie Sanders-aligned Democratic Socialists of America were eager to prove their power within the Democratic party after Sanders lost the 2016 Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton, despite help from Russia. The far-left argued, in the aftermath of Clinton's loss in the electoral college to Donald Trump, that Democrats must adapt extreme left positions to counter Trump and the extreme right.

Although the DSA and other Sanders aligned groups have generally only targeted Democrats in primaries in safe Democratic legislative and Congressional districts - demonstrating their mission to "take over" the Democratic party rather than defeat Republicans - Carter's was a special case, because when he won his seat in the House of Delegates, he defeated Republican incumbent Jackson Miller, who was also then the Majority Whip in the House.

It was a big deal, and Carter, who claims to have been inspired to a life of politics by Sanders, became an instant celebrity among the alt-left, who began pointing to him as proof that socialists can beat incumbent Republicans. Carter himself fed off that energy, embracing his position as a celebrated socialist.

It also went to his head.

So much so that after winning re-election in 2019 and being a highly visible part of a second losing Bernie for President campaign in 2020, Carter announced he'd run for governor.

It was an audacious step for him, to be sure. But he ran, hoping to be a symbol of the Sanders movement in Virginia and counting on the energy of his fellow socialists to carry him to victory. The primary field was shaping up to be daunting, especially with former governor Terry McAuliffe taking another shot at his old job.

But Carter sought to bring in the far-left bigwigs in an attempt to set up a showdown with the 'establishment.' His campaign soon enjoyed endorsements from former Bernie Sanders campaign surrogate Marianne Williamson and Our Revolution Virginia, the state chapter of the dark money group established to help far-left candidates. Seeking to capture the same anti-economic development spotlight Alexandria Ocasio Cortez did by driving out Amazon from New York City, Carter viciously attacked his primary opponents, and especially former Gov. MacAuliffe, for convincing amazon to open its HQ2 in Virginia.

But it turns out that Virginia Democrats like a revitalized economy. They also appear to like Gov. Ralph Northam, a key proponent of the Amazon development whose endorsement was a key boost for McAuliffe.

McAuliffe won the Democratic primary for governor tonight with a whopping 62% of the vote, while Carter managed to capture the fifth spot out of five candidates with less than 3%.

But losing the gubernatorial primary was just the beginning of Carter's Ls tonight. Carter also lost the Democratic primary for his statehouse seat - the same one that made him a socialist celebrity - by a roughly 5-point margin. That loss must have really stung, as Carter tweeted an angry statement without congratulating his opponent or thanking his constituents for the honor of being able to represent them.
He may be pretending the grapes are all sour now, but Carter knows, as well as anyone, that his dual-losses were a bad look and a bad omen for alt-left socialists. Not only did he lose the gubernatorial primary badly - which, let's face it, he never had a chance of winning - he has now been rejected by Democrats in a district he represented for two terms. The message of burning down the system did not resonate with Virginia Democrats, not even in the backyard of one of America's most famous socialists.

For pragmatic and moderate Democrats, this can signal a resurgence. Rather than simply trying to hold back a tide of our own side's MAGA-style pitchfork-wielders, Virginia proved that traditional Democrats, campaigning with a message of inclusive progress and rejection of extremism, can not only defend turf but regain it.

The message of pragmatism and moderation is more popular in the Democratic party than people think, but loud activists who take up all the oxygen in the room often succeed in convincing Democratic candidates that they need to pass some progressive litmus test in order to be viable.

Lee Carter's double loss tonight proved that they don't.

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