“40 fucking percent! 40 fucking percent!”
Senator Pramila Jayapal’s campaign staff and volunteers are going berserk, running back and forth, screaming, laughing, clutching each other in frantic, giddy joy. The candidate for the 7th Congressional District swept the primary election Tuesday night with 38.2 percent of the vote.
King County Council Chair Joe McDermott came in second, but far behind Jayapal, at 21.5 percent, with Representative Brady Walkinshaw just a hair shy of that at 20.9. When all votes are officially counted and certified in two weeks, Jayapal and McDermott, or possibly Jayapal and Walkinshaw, will be the only 7th district candidates to advance to the ballot in November (Joe McDermott is not to be confused with Jim McDermott, the 28-year veteran of the emtpy seat in the U.S. House of Representatives they’re all gunning for).
But tonight, November is a long, long way off.
The crimson-hued room at Hale’s Palladium in Ballard is brimming, electric. Everyone’s got a drink in their hands, everyone’s talking and talking at breakneck speed, their eyebrows up, their grins a mile wide, shrieking and yelping and group-hugging.
“We’re pretty happy, yeah,” says a field organizer, laughing, trying to contain himself, one of the many who made thousands of phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors over the past few months. “It’s amazing to see what field work does. We’ve got a lot of people in the room who’ve been out for days on end, day in and day out, wanting to do more than we asked of them — and we asked a lot.” Before I can catch his name, it’s time for Jayapal’s speech, and with an “excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me” he is off, yelling and whooping and jumping up and down along with the crowd of hundreds.
“Oh, I love you guys!” Jayapal exclaims to the roar of applause. “Thank you so much to the voters of the 7th Congressional District! You have fueled the flame of our movement with the clear belief that we together can and will reclaim our government to work for all of us!”
Jayapal thanks her team profusely — “I have led many organizations and campaigns,” she says, “but let me tell you, this team knocked my socks off” — explaining that between six field organizers and 30 interns and 1,000 volunteers the campaign knocked on 70,000 doors and made 140,000 phone calls. About 40,000 individual donations across the country made up the bulk of the Pramila for Congress campaign’s $1.28 million budget — the largest of all who ran in the 7th Congressional District race — with, she says, an “average contribution of $21. We beat Bernie Sanders!”
More raucous cheers.
Sanders’ endorsement of Jayapal certainly helped her campaign; it also seems that most in attendance see her as the Sanders candidate — the next best thing to getting Sanders into office.
“I thought it was gonna be close!” I overhear a woman exclaim. “It wasn’t near close! She kicked ass,” adding, matter-of-factly, “People are pissed about the Bernie shit and they just wanna go for Bernie people now.”
As with Bernie, Pramila fans see her as a beacon. UFCW 21 community organizer Elena Perez tells me it’s not often that she gets “personally involved in political races… it’s not very often I throw down personally for a candidate. Pramila is one of the rare candidates I will throw down for and do anything for,” explaining that Jayapal’s role as a labor activist, an advocate for workers’ rights and the rights of people of color means that “I trust her implicitly. I feel like if she’s in Congress, then I’m in good hands. That’s why I’m here.”
Kamau Chege, an organizer with the Washington Dream Coalition, says he first met Jayapal while organizing for the Washington State Dream Act, passed in 2014, which allows undocumented students to receive state financial aid. The fact that, if elected, Pramila Jayapal would be the first woman of color to ever serve in the 7th district, as well as the first Indian American woman in Congress, “That is a huge deal,” he says. He adds that on immigration issues, Rep. Brady Walkinshaw “has also been really strong.”
Only one Pramila fan, attendee Robin Wilt, says she’s slightly disappointed “that she walked back on her single-payer stance” on health care (during her speech listing a progressive agenda that included everything from tackling income inequality to student debt to mass incarceration, Jayapal said, “I want to make sure we’re providing a public option”). Still, “I’m 100 percent behind Pramila,” Wilt says. “I know that she’ll have all progressives’ backs in Congress. It’s exciting. It’s really a victory for the people.”
Former Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant, also in the audience tonight, says he is here because Jayapal “has been an incredible leader on civil rights issues… I’ve just been blown away by her. I don’t think we can have a stronger, more progressive voice in Congress. I think she’s like a shooting star… a once-in-a-lifetime kind of candidate.”
Everyone else in the room seems to concur. They are all beside themselves. The hoots and hollers continue long after Jayapal has left the stage.
“We did it!” cries one man in a striped, button down shirt, as he throws his arms around me, the nearest human, in a sweaty hug. “We did it!” And then, with a shy smile: “The wine is kicking in.”