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Progressive Candidates Reap Big Gains In Primaries

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New Jersey progressive candidate Bonnie Watson Coleman won her Democratic primary on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Coverage of this week's congressional primaries focused on the battle between establishment Republicans and the tea party. The fight on the other side of the aisle received less attention. But as the dust settles, it turns out that progressive challengers bested corporate Democrats in a handful of key House races.

In the New Jersey Democratic primary, state Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman defeated state Sen. Linda Greenstein in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D), taking 42 percent of the vote to Greenstein's 28 percent. Watson Coleman won by yoking Greenstein to Gov. Chris Christie (R).

In California's open primary, state Sen. Ted Lieu knocked out fellow Democrat and former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel in the run for the seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D). Lieu came in second with 19 percent of the vote; Greuel was third with 16.8 percent. (Lieu will face the top vote-getter, a Republican, in the general election.) He has campaigned on issues like raising the minimum wage, protecting the social safety net and keeping student loan interest rates low.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D), also of California, defeated fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a favorite of the tech industry, in the state's open primary. Honda took 49 percent of the vote to Khanna's 27 percent. Because they were the two top vote-getters, they'll face off again in the general election. Honda was endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC).

Iowa state Rep. Pat Murphy, who made populist issues affecting the middle class the central theme of his campaign, won in the Democratic primary with 35 percent of the vote. Murphy is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D), who's aiming for the Senate this year.

"We won because we were true to the issues we wanted to have a discussion on, whether or not it was immigration reform or protecting Social Security or looking to lift the cap on Social Security, making sure that those who were the least among us were being lifted up and being attended to," Watson Coleman said in a national call on Wednesday with the PCCC.

"People need to know what their choices are and why. And that’s what progressives do. We stand up for what we believe is right, irrespective of the risk associated with any sort of personal, political outcome to us," she said.

Murphy highlighted economic issues in that same call.

"Everybody was agreeing on Social Security, except the one big difference was, I actually talked about raising the cap so that we could collect more," Murphy said. “When it comes to the economic populism, it's still -- it's still some of the very core issues that we're talking about. ... [It] plays just as well in rural Iowa as it does in urban Iowa. So I think the issue of economic populism is a huge issue."

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who was also on the call, projected confidence that striking a progressive tone actually helps Democratic candidates win elections.

"What you all have done is proven that progressive campaigning yields election victories," Ellison said.

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