It will work this time.
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Last Friday, Maine Democrat Zak Ringelstein wasn’t ready to consider himself a formal member of the Democratic Socialists of America, even if he appreciated the organization’s values and endorsement in his bid to become a United States senator.
Three days later, he told The Associated Press that was ready to become the only major-party Senate candidate in the nation to be a dues-paying democratic socialist.
The swift evolution is latest evidence of a nationwide surge in the strength and popularity of an organization that, until recently, operated on the fringes of the liberal movement’s farthest left flank. But as Donald Trump’s presidency stretches into its second year, democratic socialism has become a significant force in Democratic politics. Its rise comes as Democrats debate whether moving too far left will turn off voters.
“I stand with the democratic socialists, and I have decided to become a dues-paying member,” Ringelstein told the AP. “It’s time to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy.”
There are 42 men and women running for offices at the federal, state and local levels this year with the formal endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, the organization says. They span 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan.
The most ambitious Democrats in Washington have been reluctant to embrace the label, even as they embrace the policies defining modern-day democratic socialism: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and the abolition of the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congress’ only self-identified democratic socialist, campaigned Friday with the movement’s newest star, New York City congressional candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former bartender who defeated one of the most powerful House Democrats last month.
Her victory poured gasoline onto a fire that was already beginning to burn brighter. The DSA’s paid membership has hovered around 6,000 in recent years, said Allie Cohn, a member of the group’s national political team.
Last week, its paid membership hit 45,000 nationwide.
There is little distinction made between the terms “democratic socialism” and “socialism” in the group’s literature. While Ringelstein and other DSA-backed candidates promote a “big-tent” philosophy, the DSA constitution describes their members as socialists who “reject an economic order based on private profit” and “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”
Members during public meetings often refer to each other “comrades,” wear clothing featuring socialist symbols like the rose and promote authors such as Karl Marx.
The common association with the Soviet Union, the first state to adopt a form of socialism, has made it difficult for sympathetic liberals to explain their connection.
“I don’t like the term socialist, because people do associate that with bad things in history,” said Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson, who is endorsed by the DSA and campaigned alongside Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, but is not a dues-paying democratic socialist. “There’s definitely a lot of their policies that closely align with mine.”