“We’ve been called radicals, terrorists,” Bush told supporters in St. Louis. “We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement. But now, we are a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational, multifaith mass movement.”
Bush, a 44-year old nurse and pastor, had never run for office before the Ferguson protests after the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a White police officer. She made a bid for state Senate, then turned her attention to Clay, whose family had held a safe seat from St. Louis since 1969. For the 2018 Democratic primary race, she raised less than $150,000 and, despite a late burst of attention after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted a longtime congressman in a Democratic primary in New York, she lost by 20 points.
But Bush remained deeply involved in direct action and liberal politics, becoming a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and getting featured in “Knock Down the House,” a Netflix documentary about Justice Democrats and its project to replace moderate members of Congress with grass-roots activists.
Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Bush more than tripled her fundraising, even while contracting covid-19 and growing deeply involved in the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. At campaign events, she would talk about surviving the novel coronavirus pandemic and enduring physical harm as protests were broken up and demonstrators were tear-gassed.
“I burned for almost 24 hours! My skin burned!” Bush said during a July 8 “virtual rally” organized by Sanders, the independent Vermont senator. “We keep fighting, thinking we’re getting somewhere, and then they hit us again. But we have people sitting in these seats who could have made change for us.”
Clay, whose only previous primary challenge came when he and a former colleague were forced into the same district, was slow to respond to Bush. According to the Federal Election Commission, he spent less than $600,000 on the race, and his final mail advertising was largely negative, accusing Bush of being irresponsible with her finances and working closely with critics of Israel.
By that point, Bush and allies had spent plenty of money defining him, with Justice Democrats and another liberal group, Fight Corporate Monopolies, buying ads that accused the incumbent of voting for big corporations on behalf of his donors.