After 2020 successes, Working Families Party to start Delaware chapter

DOVER — In the wake of an election cycle that saw its candidates win five seats in the General Assembly, with four knocking off Democratic incumbents, the Working Families Party plans to establish an official chapter in Delaware.

The group, which describes itself as a diverse coalition of “regular people coming together across our differences to make a better future for us all,” currently has staffed operation in 20 other states. Its candidates support policies like a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and reducing the influence of money in politics.

The party played a role in the local progressive surge that saw several incumbents defeated in Democratic primaries, including the Senate’s highest-ranking member, this year.

Its origins in Delaware can be traced back to a 2018 primary challenge against Delaware’s senior U.S. senator. While that bid came up short, it helped establish momentum for the group and its causes, Mid-Atlantic Political Director Vanessa Clifford said.

In 2018, Kerri Evelyn Harris garnered 35% running to the left of Tom Carper, who was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and has held office here continuously since 1977. The following year, the Working Families Party coordinated with other activists in the state to hold candidate and campaigning training sessions, helping to establish the “electoral infrastructure” necessary for success, Ms. Clifford said.

This past year, it promoted Jess Scarane, who pulled in 27% against Sen. Chris Coons in a campaign limited by COVID. In local races, its candidates had quite an impact: Larry Lambert, Sherae’a Moore, Madinah Wilson-Anton and Eric Morrison won in the 7th, 8th, 26th and 27th Representative districts, respectively, with each winning primary and general contests. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Marie Pinkney unseated David McBride, the president pro tempore who had held office for 42 years, in the 13th district.

Madinah Wilson-Anton

Fitting with the party’s mission of promoting diversity, Rep. Wilson-Anton is Muslim, Rep. Morrison and Sen. Pinkney are LGBT and Reps. Wilson-Anton, Moore and Lambert and Sen. Pinkney are Black.

While they’re all still Democrats, they don’t fit the corporate Democrat mold that has been prevalent in Delaware for so long. Each candidate the party supports has pledged not to take donations from corporate political action committee as a sign they are beholden to the masses, Ms. Clifford said.

“We like to call ourselves a nondelusional third party where we are working to build progressive power,” she said. “We’re not running candidates for the sake of running them.”

The election of the five freshmen increases the chances of lawmakers approving measures to legalize marijuana, raise the minimum wage, reform the criminal justice system and promote environmental justice, all policies with broad public support, she said.

WFP meetings in the state typically draw 40 to 50 people, with some attracting more than 100 attendees, according to Ms. Clifford. Many of its supporters, such as its candidates this past cycle, will still officially be Democrats, meaning its strength can’t be measured in registered voters alone.

“We work within the Democratic primary system to get the most progressive person elected,” Ms. Clifford said, describing U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts as examples of WFP-type Democrats.

Ms. Scarane expressed optimism about the growing energy around the progressive movement, believing an official WFP Delaware chapter can help recruit and train candidates and campaign staff while also pushing for policies in the General Assembly.

To her, 2020 was a perfect example of what the party is all about: Americans tired of politics as usual who feel their interests are all too often ignored.

“The candidates who won in 2020 are regular working people who saw a problem in their community,” Ms. Scarane said.

Jess Scarane