A far-left progressive who won big in Pennsylvania says his election should be a lesson for national Democrats

Philadelphia LarryKrasner (63 of 97)Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderDemocratic district attorney candidate Larry Krasner answers a question at a candidate forum at the Kingsessing Recreation Center in Southwest Philadelphia.
  • Civil rights attorney Larry Krasner won the race for Philadelphia district attorney Tuesday in a blowout.
  • The election saw a boost in turnout of nearly 75,000 over the last competitive DA’s race.
  • Krasner says the enthusiasm around his campaign should be a lesson to the Democratic Party that it should be “wrapping its loving arms around progressives.”

Civil rights attorney Larry Krasner won the race for Philadelphia District Attorney Tuesday in what can only be described as a blowout. Philadelphia voters provided him with a mandate to pursue the kind of drastic criminal justice reform he touted on the campaign trail.

With 98% of precincts reporting by Wednesday morning, Krasner had taken just under 75% of the vote. While his predecessor, Seth Williams, also won with 75% of the vote in 2009, the turnout was far lower.

With the numbers still being tallied, the total votes for district attorney this year edged near 200,000, more than a 75,000 increase from four years ago. Krasner’s win was part of a Democratic wave Tuesday night that saw the party win big in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as many more local races.

Philadelphia LarryKrasner (23 of 97)Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderA campaign card lies on a Krasner campaign staffer’s desk.

It may be some time before we can say definitively what drove turnout in the election — the backlash to President Donald Trump in a solidly Democratic city surely played a factor. But what is clear from both talking to Philadelphians on the ground and local reporting is that Krasner generated an unheard-of level of enthusiasm for a local election.

Krasner told Business Insider that he was able to capitalise on what he sees as a massive electoral shift toward millennials and communities of colour by embracing a blunt, progressive platform. In his win, and the excitement generated by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ run in 2016, he said he sees a lesson to Democrats looking to win nationally.

“Yeah I think that there’s something going on. I think it’s real,” Krasner said.

“I think the Democratic Party should be madly wrapping its loving arms around progressives,” he added.

Krasner’s platform called for an end to “mass incarceration,” the constellation of state and federal policies that have put more than 2 million Americans behind bars. The platform, as well as his long-established reputation as an advocate for civil rights, activists, and protesters, energised the city’s progressive base, who then volunteered and canvassed heavily for him.

Prominent African-American lawyer Michael Coard, who has worked on activist cases with Krasner for a decade, told Business Insider that a “sleeping giant” of progressive Philadelphians and communities of colour had “woken” this year to campaign, canvass, or vouch for Krasner.

When Business Insider asked Krasner about the enthusiasm for his campaign, and the excitement generated by a series of ads aired by the Soros-funded Public Safety and Justice PAC during the primary that centered his legal advocacy for Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement, he said it taught him a lot about what voters — and specifically Democratic voters — are looking for in 2017.

Here’s Krasner on voters in 2017 and the Democratic Party:

Krasner: [The ads] taught me a lesson, which is that it’s not 1987 anymore. People want their same sex marriage. They want their recreational marijuana. They want their economic equality. Especially millennials and older African-Americans, who’ve been through the civil rights movement and have seen it. They know there is racism. They don’t want racism, but they do want their public schools, which in many places don’t exist anymore.

It was a lesson to me that my views were being characterised as controversial. They’re actually pretty mainstream with the average Democratic voter in Philadelphia County.

Business Insider: Do you think there’s a lesson in that for the National Democratic Party?

Krasner: Absolutely. Absolutely. Let me just give you a little teeny tiny portion of it. I think if the Democrats nationally were to come out in favour of recreational marijuana, for many reasons, the first and best of them being it doesn’t kill anybody. But alcohol does. And when I say alcohol does, I mean like 80,000 lives a year. And Marijuana kills nobody. It doesn’t kill anybody, but opiates and opioids do. And I mean like 60,000 lives every year. These are real numbers. As compared to zero.

I think that if Democrats would come out for that, then you would see a lot of rural areas that went for Trump where there’s little pickup trucks going to the polls, with guys who have beards and they have ponytails and they have a gun rack in the back, and they would be voting for recreational marijuana because they know it makes sense too. They know that the reality is that where it’s readily available you have a 25 per cent reduction in opioid/opiate fatalities. That is a national catastrophe. They know that at least the states that get in early are going to have tremendous tax funds that they can use to bolster education.

The Democratic Party has got to stop running around trying to be close to the Republican Party. Bernie [Sanders] made that clear …”

In numerous majority-minority neighbourhoods, Krasner netted more than 1,000 votes more during the May primary than Williams, the city’s first black district attorney, did during the 2009 primary. Neighbourhood vote totals for the general election have yet to be released, but considering the overall turnout bump, one would expect to see similar gains.

By the Krasner campaign’s account, Krasner’s strongest voter demographic was African-American women, which he attributed to their understanding of the criminal justice system he has proposed to reform.

William Wagner, a canvasser for the ACLU’s “Smart Justice” campaign in Philadelphia and and a formerly incarcerated person, put it this way: “Voting for a DA, where I come from, is something that we don’t care about.”

But this year was different, he said, because “the candidates are specifically campaigning on the issues that we want our constituents to vote for.”

Business Insider followed Krasner during the final days of his campaign — check it out here »

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