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Bernie Sanders-backed nominees score wins, but in longshot races

A close look at the numbers show that stories about the power of the Democrats' left-flank may have overstated the case.

In the wake of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprising Democratic Primary win in New York’s 14th congressional district, much of the talk this political week has centered on the rising power of the party’s liberal wing. But a look at the House primary results from the first half of 2018, shows a more complicated picture.

The group Our Revolution, a progressive political organization that rose out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, has endorsed candidates in 33 of the House Democratic primaries held so far this year. And overall, their candidates have won in 14 of those races, including this week’s big victory in NY-14.

That works out to winning 42 percent of their races held thus far. And while anyone would rather be above .500 than below it, winning 42 percent of the time isn’t bad for a nascent political group.

That’s the good news for the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party. The not-as-good news is where those victories have come.

Only one of those 14 congressional primary wins has come in a district that is currently labeled as a battleground, by the Cook Political Report – New York’s 24th district, which is currently rated “likely Republican.”

Of the other 13 wins, 10 have come in districts that are rated as safe Republican seats, meaning those Democratic nominees aren’t likely to make it to Congress. And three wins have come in seats that are rated as safe Democratic seats. Of those three safe Democratic wins, one candidate was an incumbent and one was vying for a seat where the incumbent was retiring. So, Ocasio-Cortez’s win is the group’s only victory over an establishment incumbent.

In other words, Our Revolution seems to be doing best in primary races where it’s harder to field good Democratic candidates and races where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is less interested in pushing establishment candidates. (The DCCC cares much more about battleground districts than it does about districts where they are more confident the Democrat will win or lose.)

What about those other 19 primaries, where the establishment Democrat won? There are a lot more congressional battlegrounds in that group, 11 in total, including 5 true tossups.

These 19 are the kinds of districts that will likely determine whether the Democrats have a chance to “flip” the House in November and take control in 2019. And so far, the Democratic establishment is riding high in these locales, getting the more moderate candidates the DCCC believes it needs to win in the fall in districts such as Colorado 6, where the establishment choice won on Tuesday.

Through June, that may be the biggest takeaway from the primary elections so far.

It’s not that the so-called Bernie wing of the party is failing in 2018. A win is a win and, to be sure, this week’s win by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a big one. Her victory and others from the more liberal side of the party may help fire up that party of Democrats this year and in elections to come.

But the stories this week about the surprising power of the left side of the party may have overstated the case a bit.

Going by the numbers, it’s the establishment wing of the Democratic Party that is having a good 2018. And, more important, it’s having a good year in the places that matter most this November.