How A Georgia Democratic Socialist Outperformed Progressives In Oregon

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By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

Gabriel Sanchez, a Georgian member of the Democratic Socialists of America ousted an incumbent state legislator. He succeeded where fellow progressives in Oregon failed, even though the Peach State is normally less hospitable to those on the left than the Beaver State.

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city that is noted for having three Socialist Mayors, so the idea of socialism in the United States is not entirely foreign to me. Then again, not many places in the United States can make this claim.

If you would predict success for a Democratic Socialist, it would probably be in a blue state like Oregon, not a red-to-purple state like Georgia. How did Sanchez succeed in a Southern State. where fellow candidates on the left failed in the Pacific Northwest?

Most political pundits have probably never heard of Elwood Henneman. He’s not a political scientist, but an exercise scientist. But his size principle may be applicable in this case.

According to Gym Aware, “In 1957, Dr. Elwood Henneman discovered that motor units are recruited in order from smallest to largest, depending on the intensity of the force being applied. More simply stated, when an athlete begins any particular low intensity movement like walking or a slight jog, the brain sends a signal down the spine recruiting smaller motor units containing a small amount of muscle fibers to accomplish the desired movement. For maximal effort movements requiring high amounts of intensity like maximal sprints, all out vertical leaps, or maximum back squats, the body recruits the high threshold motor units with hundreds of muscle fibers to accomplish these high intensity tasks.”

What Henneman discovered was that exercise may be better when the small units are recruited first before the high-threshold motor units are brought on board. In a political analogy, Barack Obama may have succeeded in his campaign by bringing in the smaller donors and volunteers first (the lower-intensity units), while Hillary Clinton chased the big donors. Going after high intensity tasks without building up to them could lead to burnout. Each Obama victory in a small state caucus with the small donors and volunteers enabled him to eventually wrest the bigger donors away from Clinton.

Sanchez appeared to follow this strategy. With a focus on “Cop City” and other issues on expanded health care and reaching out to Hispanic voters, that appeal to the small donors and volunteers, he was able to flank the incumbent, Teri Anulewicz around Smyrna, according to GPB. And 11 Alive reported that “Tuesday night Sanchez won his primary against a seven-year veteran, Democrat Teri Anulewicz. Her attorney husband, Chris Anulewicz, has represented a defendant in Fulton County’s election interference case. Sanchez’s backers used that to question the incumbent’s Democratic credentials.” That may have made Anulewicz seem further to the right than she really was.

In Oregon, progressives like Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who ousted a moderate Democratic Congressman two years ago but lost in the Fall 2022 election, as well as Susheela Jayapal, an ex-Multnomah County Commissioner, went down to defeat despite raising lots of money and garnering a number of very liberal endorsements, according to Politico. Their public profiles led to a lot of pushback from moderate Democrats, while Sanchez flew under the radar, surprising his centrist opponent. The margins of victory in those Oregon races were all by double-digits.

With a laser-like focus on Cop City, highly unpopular with Democratic Party adherents, Sanchez seized upon an issue in a way that others on the left in Oregon failed to capture with the locals. Those Oregon candidates seemed to reach out more to national figures than make in-roads in their own backyards.

Democratic Socialists like Sanchez may be interested in how socialism took root in Southeast Wisconsin. Adherents became popular for anti-corruption drives and public works projects. Their influence only waned when FDR and his New Deal Coalition came along, and co-opted much of their message, according to the WUWM report on Milwaukee’s mayors.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at His Twitter account is JohnTures2.