How a former Democratic candidate’s campaign can be a blueprint for the party
- Casper Schlemp is a US Global Leadership Coalition Next Generation Fellow and Peace Corps returnees.
Tennessee’s 7th district is as blue as a freshly picked strawberry, and 2020 has been one of the most difficult and polarizing years in recent times.
Between the pandemic, job losses, protests and extreme partisanship, running for a Democrat in Tennessee was not an easy year. Despite these challenges, Democratic candidate Kiran Sreepada took important steps in modeling an alternative for the 7th district.
As a US Global Leadership Coalition Next Generation Inaugural Fellow, I decided to interview Sreepada about the future of our district. Despite his loss, his ability to win support in the face of these obstacles is an important example of young people looking to run in future elections.
Sreepada remains particularly optimistic about the youngest generation in the district, whom he believes are far more active and committed than he initially expected.
While he fears left-wing young people in Tennessee may feel hopeless, he points to the modest but important gains he’s made for the Democrats – a smaller percentage than the previous race but due to a significantly higher total number of votes the higher voter turnout in 2020.
Sreepada sees this as a sign of slow but steady progress.
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A shining example of what’s to come
Sreepada encourages young people to get involved and seek out local offices to gain experience, build trust in their community and bring about practical change. âYou can start anywhere.
Local races are important … Local is really attractive because if you look around the district – Clarksville is a great example of that – the people who won non-partisan races were liberal, âhe noted. He stressed the importance of young people’s participation as a way to build a new coalition of leaders who could potentially run for higher office in Tennessee.
The race was not without unexpected challenges. While he believes the country has clearly moved towards equality, he was surprised at the level of scrutiny he was faced with, not political issues, but identity issues – a flood of emails asking about his citizenship, religion, language and culture. by members of both parties. “That kind of hostility blew me away,” he commented.[ofanimosity)threwmeforaloopâhecommented[ofanimosity)Â threwmeforaloopâhecommented
For the most part, however, this additional control did not interfere with his efforts. He encourages potential candidates to focus on politics rather than identity and has modeled this technique throughout his campaign.
The policies he advocated – health, infrastructure, and education – affect everyone in our district, regardless of our political, religious, or cultural identity.
In an era of identity politics and divisive culture wars, Sreepada modeled a viable path for progressives in Tennessee.
While it may be too early to know if Sreepada will run again, his campaign offers future candidates a timely example of a positive, unifying, and policy-based campaign that focuses on ideas rather than personal attacks or divisive buzzwords.
As I listened to him talk about a ten-year plan for the 7th district, I couldn’t help but wonder if he might be on to something.
Casper Schlemp is a US Global Leadership Coalition Next Generation Fellow and Peace Corps returnees. He has taught English as a second language in Nashville, Mexico, and Chile. He speaks three languages ââand currently uses those skills as an immigration lawyer.