Chardo Richardson is adamant about the fact that he and his committee are going to eventually replace every member of Congress willing to take corporate money.
Formed by staffers and supporters of the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, they call themselves Brand New Congress – and their calls for reform are as clear as the political action committee's name. They want to raise the minimum wage, institute nationwide campaign finance reform, create a justice system that works for all (as is evident with their fierce calls to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency), and they think free public education and free Medicare for all are rights, not privileges.
The grass-roots organization is the latest progressive firing squad aimed at the Democratic Party establishment. Its ammunition includes candidates like Richardson, an Air Force veteran and the president of the Central Florida American Civil Liberties Union; Democratic challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled off one of the election season's biggest upsets so far when she defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in their New York City district's primary; and a surplus of other young, charismatic progressives.
But there's a hitch in the case of Richardson. A political nobody, how is he supposed to pull off a feat like unseating U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida's 7th Congressional District when he's only raised $34,000, as compared to Murphy's $2.3 million?
The question is a head-scratcher, as is Richardson's confidence when he flaunts the deficit in campaign funding between him and his Democratic primary opponent.
"We all knew we weren't going to outraise the machine. We're not taking the big money," Richardson says. "So how are we going to outraise them?"
Richardson doesn't answer the question, instead opting to fluff the rhetoric around his platform. He talks of how Murphy is too ready to compromise with her fellow elected officials. He says Murphy should "stand up for something," and that "it almost appears that she's scared to rock the boat or she's incompetent."
He says these things at a time when Democratic voter turnout has been recorded as two to three times higher than on average, and at a time when many Americans' peak frustrations come from the lack of bipartisan cooperation among congressional leaders.
Murphy's campaign disagrees.
Though her campaign stops short of calling to abolish ICE, Murphy campaign spokeswoman Christie Stephenson tells Orlando Weekly that Murphy does have a habit of standing up on plenty of issues. Most recently this was demonstrated in the way Murphy spoke out against the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents.
"Less than two years ago, Stephanie Murphy successfully unseated a Republican incumbent who had held his seat for over 20 years, becoming the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress," Stephenson tells Orlando Weekly.
"Since taking office last year, Stephanie has stood up to special interests, fought for women and working families, supported seniors and veterans and has been a national leader in reducing gun violence. Her results speak for themselves as Stephanie believes if you work hard and put people first, the politics will take care of itself."
For candidates like Richardson, though, it's an all or nothing game. The era of incrementalism, of half-measures, is over. The times demand boldness.
The thing is, Democrats see a blue wave on the horizon. And to take back the House, they'll need districts like Florida's 7th, which isn't like the Bronx district Ocasio-Cortez won, where the victor in the primary is all but guaranteed a seat in Congress. Two years ago, Murphy, a centrist and prodigious fundraiser, edged out John Mica by a scant three points. So it's worth asking: Might a much more liberal and much more poorly funded Richardson lose an otherwise winnable seat in November?
Even so, Richardson sees himself – and Brand New Congress – as the party's future. Change might not come overnight, or even in one election cycle, but it is coming. And soon enough, he says, more and more Democrats will be forgoing corporate donations.
"I don't believe that I'm better than Stephanie Murphy as a human being," Richardson says. "I believe that we have just a little more courage, because it takes courage to say that I'm going to run and know that I'm going to get my ass kicked when it comes to money."