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BLM Activist Cori Bush Ousts Incumbent Democrat in Missouri Primary Election

Bush’s win is the latest in a surge of progressive candidates unseating establishment Democrats.

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020, in St. Louis, Missouri.

On Tuesday, a progressive candidate for Congress ousted an incumbent Democratic lawmaker from Missouri who has been in office since 2001 — and whose father had held that seat for three decades prior.

Cori Bush, a racial justice leader from St. Louis, Missouri, who has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement from its start, defeated William Lacy Clay Jr. in the Democratic primary race for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.

As the district leans heavily Democratic, it’s expected that Bush will cruise on to victory in the general election this November, becoming the first Black woman to represent any district in Missouri within Congress.

Bush has been active in local politics for years, beginning with the Movement for Black Lives following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. In announcing her win to supporters on Tuesday, she recognized the work that she and other activists have been engaged in for several years to advance the cause of racial justice in the United States.

“It is historic that this year, of all years, we’re sending a Black, working-class single mother, who has been fighting for Black lives since Ferguson, all the way to the halls of Congress,” she said.

“Tonight, Missouri’s 1st District has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer,” Bush also said in her victory speech. “We decided that we the people have the answers, and we will lead from the front lines.”

Bush won the primary with 48.6 percent of the vote. Clay, who is also Black, received 45.5 percent.

Bush was seen as the progressive challenger to Clay, as he was endorsed by more establishment Democrats across the country in the race. While Bush garnered the support of several progressive leaders and organizations — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Jamaal Bowman (who himself defeated establishment Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel earlier this year in New York), and Justice Democrats, an organization strongly allied with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — Clay received backing from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Planned Parenthood.

In addition to being the latest among a number of progressives to unseat establishment lawmakers in the Democratic Party, Bush’s win on Tuesday signifies the end of a political dynasty for the St. Louis area. Clay has been the congressional representative for the district since 2001, and prior to that, his father, Bill Clay, had represented the area in Congress since 1969.

While Clay was endorsed by the establishment wing of the party, he wasn’t what many might consider a moderate, either. He supports a number of progressive ideas, including the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

Still, he was opposed by progressives within the party for a number of reasons, including receiving corporate support in his electoral campaigns in the past. Clay had also campaigned against Bush’s more progressive style and leanings, describing her as a “prop” of organizations from outside the district and accusing her of trying to divide the party.

Bush’s win was celebrated by Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas, who said, “This is a huge upset and another groundbreaking win for our movement against a corporate-backed political dynasty,” following the announcement of Bush’s victory.

In addition to this race in the St. Louis area, Missouri in general took a more progressive turn in the election on Tuesday night, at least on the issue of healthcare. Citizens across the state voted in favor of a Medicaid expansion to grant healthcare access to thousands of Missourians under the Affordable Care Act, going against the wishes of Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is himself up for reelection later this year.

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