After Delaware primary defeat, progressive Harris vows to keep working for public

Kerri Evelyn Harris is cheered by supporters in Wilmington after U.S. Sen. Tom Carper defeated her Thursday in Delaware's Democratic primary.

Kerri Evelyn Harris is cheered by supporters in Wilmington after U.S. Sen. Tom Carper defeated her Thursday in Delaware's Democratic primary. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

In the waning hours of voting Thursday evening, Delaware Democrat Kerri Evelyn Harris expressed confidence she would unseat three-term U.S. Sen. Tom Carper. She was convinced that her progressive message was part of a broader leftward shift for Democrats. She was sure  First State voters would embrace her grassroots-based campaign with its disdain for corporate influence and focus on improving conditions for working families.

In the end, it was business as usual for Delaware Democrats who turned out in high numbers. Carper dominated Harris, collecting 65 percent of the vote.

But Harris isn’t going away. She said her progressive push — along with similar efforts from congressional candidates including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley — isn’t going away either.

This year “is just the beginning. Each cycle from here on out, you better watch out because change is coming,” Harris said in Wilmington following her defeat. “We have learned a lot from this, other campaigns that are grassroots are going to learn from this, just like we learned from other campaigns, win or lose, we have had no failures in this entire cycle for people who were fighting for the people.”

Though she wouldn’t commit to another political run, the community activist said she will serve the people in some capacity.

Even in a losing effort, Harris said she believes she started a movement in Delaware. “We have brought out more people than we’ve seen in the last 30 years to the polls in Delaware. We’ve made a message resonate across the nation.”

That message did draw national attention to the Delaware race, with the New York Times even suggesting the Harris challenge threatened to “rip apart [Delaware’s] centrist political fabric.” That fabric may not have torn Thursday night, but Harris may have pulled some threads.

“In the future, we are going to see candidates even more riled up, making sure we push the issues a little bit harder so that people understand that they have to vote in their best interests,” she said. “And voting for somebody just because they are a nice person, isn’t necessarily in your best interest.”

Harris warned that Democrats won’t have a choice but to vote for those more aggressive, progressive candidates if they want to see success in the future. “I suggest to the establishment, get on board, understand that the peoples’ voices are not just wanting to be heard, but they will be heard, and if you don’t move closer to the people, we will be sure to vote you out.”

Carper congratulated Harris in his victory speech Thursday night for running a good race. And though he didn’t mention her by name, he encouraged young candidates to keep running.

“To the people who ran and didn’t win, this is not the finish line,” Carper said. “You’re young, you have plenty of opportunities to run again, to make a difference with your lives.”

Carper will face Republican Rob Arlett in the general election in November.

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