Grazie, Obama: Campaign Alum Wins in Italy

Dual national Elly Schlein is the surprise new leader of Italy's Democratic Party
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 27, 2023 7:46 AM CST
Grazie, Obama: Campaign Alum Wins in Italy
Elly Schlein gestures at her electoral committee headquarters after the announcement of partial results of Democratic Party primaries in Rome, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. Schlein, a 37-year-old US-Italian national, has defied polls to become the first woman to head Italy’s opposition Democratic Party.   (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

Elly Schlein, a 37-year-old US-Italian national and longtime left-wing political operative who worked on two presidential campaigns for former President Obama, defied polls to become the first woman to head Italy’s opposition Democratic Party. Schlein’s surprise victory Sunday over the popular governor of Emilia-Romagna, a traditional left-wing stronghold, is attributed to support from women and youth in the rank-and-file, while the party apparatus largely supported Stefano Bonaccini. Schlein claimed 54% of the vote to Bonaccini’s 46%. “We will be a big problem" for Premier Giorgia Meloni, Schlein said to supporters, per the AP, pledging to help the most vulnerable and shore up the labor market with better-paying, secure jobs.

Schlein took an immediate swipe at Meloni for her far-right government’s anti-migration policies, saying the shipwreck deaths Sunday of dozens off southern Italy "weighs on the conscience of those who only weeks ago approved a decree whose only goal is to hinder rescues at sea.” Schlein takes over a splintered party that failed to mount a credible campaign against Meloni in last fall’s elections, leading the PD's former leader to step down. Schlein, who grew up in Switzerland with an Italian mother and American father, quit the center-left Democratic Party in 2015 over differences in the direction it was taking under then-Premier Matteo Renzi. She helped the Democratic Party campaign last summer as an independent candidate, winning a seat in parliament even as the party lost the general election, and became a party member just recently to run as its leader.

A former European Parliament deputy, Schlein cut her political organizing chops on two Obama campaigns and was aligned with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ pan-European progressive moment DiEM25. She is often compared to US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her social justice advocacy; Politico notes that she is "a lesbian who has a liberal agenda from LGBTQ+ rights to migration," and promised in her victory speech Sunday to take on "poverty, health care privatization ... and climate change." Schlein gained national attention three years ago when she played a key role in blocking the right from taking power in her traditionally left-leaning region of Emilia-Romagna, famously confronting League leader Matteo Salvini over his immigration record. (More Elly Schlein stories.)

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