June 22, 2018

It's My Party and I'll Try If I Want To

Democrats are desperate to retake part of Congress. Their best shot is the House. This fall, they’ll be slugging it out with Republicans—but in the meantime, they’re slugging it out with each other. The progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party are going head-to-head in Democratic primaries all over the country right now, wrestling over what the party should be and stand for. This week, we have the story of a candidate in one primary like that.

Sam Hodgson for This American Life


Host Ira Glass talks with Ben Calhoun about how Democrats are furiously trying to retake New York’s 19th congressional district. The sitting Republican is considered very vulnerable, and has been the subject of weekly protests that even have a house band. Nationally, Democrats are watching what’s happening in the district. They consider it one of the crucial seats they need to win back to retake the House. But the Democratic primary in NY-19 has been characterized by messy infighting playing out the stubborn split between the progressive and establishment wings of the party. (6 minutes)

Act One

When Jeff Beals learned who was going to run in the Democratic primary for NY-19, he was disappointed. Beals, a progressive, thought the Democrats jumping in were conventional candidates, ones who embodied what he thinks is a failed strategy for his party: raising lots of money from big donors and lobbyists, and buying TV ads. So Beals decided to run as well—to take his progressive ideas and strategy and face off with the mainstream candidates he didn’t like. Beals learns many things in Democratic politics are slanted against candidates like him. Producer Ben Calhoun spent months with him. (28 minutes)

Act Two

Beals is running against six other candidates, many of whom say they, too, are progressive. Beals disagrees. He’s pitted himself against them. Beals’s opponents argue that his combative style is harming the party. Meantime, Beals finds himself increasingly at odds with a national arm of the Democratic party that keeps warning him he isn’t raising enough money. Progressive groups step in on Beals’s side as he forges ahead. (22 minutes)


“Are You Blue?” by Kelly Flint