Shahid Buttar’s campaign to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seems at first glance a quixotic endeavor. In attempting to successfully primary an incumbent speaker of the house, Buttar, a Democrat, seeks to achieve a historic first. He also is attempting to win in a district which has in recent years shown a marked hostility to anti-establishment candidates.
In 2016, the California 12th Congressional District went to Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary election by seven points, and last year to U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) over candidate Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) by an exceedingly lopsided margin.
Despite these obstacles, Buttar may still have a path to victory. Many on the left have been dismayed by Pelosi’s repeated capitulation to the Trump administration on immigration, her unwillingness to support the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, and her refusal to even consider impeachment.
If Buttar is able to turn his race into a cause célèbre for progressives nationwide, while also building the same type of GOTV operation that knocked on 13,000 doors for Alexandria Occasio-Cortez in Queens, he might have a fighting chance. He will likely need to reach a bloc of voters that has not played a significant role in other successful left-wing candidacies; the downwardly mobile upper middle class.
The California 12th Congressional District has a median income of $111,717; nearly twice the average of the four districts represented by members of the squad. However, a recent study estimated that in order to live comfortably in San Francisco you would need an annual income of $164,214 as a renter and $230,286 as a homeowner.
In a controversial 2017 Guardian article, numerous tech industry employees who earned six figure salaries described their struggles, with one Twitter employee who earned $160,000 a year noting that he once needed to borrow money to make it through the end of the month. The primary issue cited by those in the article is exorbitant housing costs, something Buttar has devoted extensive space on his campaign website to addressing.
These expenses are likely to be compounded for many, through additional universal financial burdens such as healthcare-for-all and free college tuition.
This gives Buttar an opening to draw a distinction between the type of universal social programs that he, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez favor, and the means-tested status quo preferred by more conventionally minded Democrats like Pelosi.
Take healthcare for instance: Buttar just needs to point out that unlike the Affordable Care Act with its stringent means testing, Medicare for All would cover everyone. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Pelosi has expressed trepidation about the latter while championing the former. Similarly, free college and student loan forgiveness could prove to be winning issues for those struggling to afford their children’s tuition and/or pay off their own debts.
This could prove to be an effective strategy for other Democratic Socialists of America backed candidates running in ostensibly wealthier districts nationwide.
It’s not just in San Francisco that formerly upper middle class voters face increased precarity. Recent polling found that an increasing number of Americans with six figure incomes identify as working class or even poor. All the left needs to do is convince them to start voting like it.
The primary will occur on March 3, 2020.
Joe Mulkerin is a New York based freelance journalist. In addition to the California Globe his work has appeared in The Observer, The Indypendent, Truthout.org, The Villager and numerous other esteemed publications.
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