Power of Progressive Left on Ballot in Michigan Governor’s Race

Underdog with endorsements from key progressives will test establishment

The electoral might of the left will be put to the test Tuesday in Michigan, as the Democratic primary pits a progressive candidate with endorsements from socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez up against an establishment Democrat backed by the state's party and union allies.

Abdul El-Sayed, 33, is a "product of Michigan schools" who later became the city of Detroit's public health director, according to his campaign website. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez have been actively campaigning on El-Sayed's behalf in the last week. If he were to win the primary and go on to win in November, he would be the first Muslim governor in America.

"On August 7th, let's show Michigan and this nation what is possible and elect @AbdulElSayed to be the next Governor of Michigan," Sanders tweeted on Sunday, along with a video of the senator speaking to a packed auditorium urging the crowd to vote for El-Sayed. Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic-socialist, campaigned for El-Sayed in Grand Rapids, Flint, and Detroit the week prior.

To claim the upset and win the nomination, El-Sayed will have to knock off Gretchen Whitmer, a former minority leader of the Michigan senate whose endorsements list on her website runs deep.

"Absolutely she's the establishment candidate," said Steve Mitchell, a Michigan pollster for over three decades. "She's got the endorsement of the mayor of Detroit, former governors, she's got the endorsement of the unions."

Complicating the chance of a progressive upset is Shri Thanedar, another anti-establishment progressive in the race. He may be Whitmer's key to prevent being outflanked from the left: The 63-year-old Thandear is self-funding his campaign, thanks to a fortune made in the chemicals business.

Mitchell said whatever momentum El-Sayed may have from the Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez endorsements and campaign appearances will likely be muted by a split vote between the two progressive candidates...

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