Primary races to watch on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the state of New York holds its primary elections and Ryan Grim and Akela Lacy describes ome interesting races that are being closely watched, where progressives are trying to wrest the Democratic party nominations from entrenched establishment politicians, seeking to emulate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise win in 2018.

THE FIRST INSIDE the gates was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, when she knocked off Queens machine boss Joe Crowley in June 2018. Three months later, a slew of progressive and socialist insurgents beat incumbents in New York state legislative primaries: some who’d been serving decades, and others who’d been part of the renegade Independent Democratic Conference, which shifted power in Albany toward Republicans. Those primaries brought Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar, and a host of others to Albany, where they uncorked a burst of bottled-up of progressive legislation.

Then came Tiffany Cabán, a former public defender who ran a shoestring campaign for Queens district attorney and came out ahead on election day in the summer of 2019, only to lose by a few dozen votes when the absentee ballots were counted.

The campaigns of the last two years created a roadmap for left-wing insurgents this cycle, with the Cabán and Ocasio-Cortez races pointing progressives to the New York City neighborhoods where their strength is particularly strong, exposing opportunities to unseat new incumbents. The 2018 bids for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, by Cynthia Nixon, Jumaane Williams, and Zephyr Teachout, respectively, left behind additional local data. While Jamaal Bowman’s challenge to Rep. Eliot Engel has gotten the most coverage, Reps. Yvette Clarke, Greg Meeks, and others are fending off spirited challenges from the left. ProgressiveMondaire Jones, meanwhile, has moved into the lead in an open congressional primary in a southern New York district. That same force is rattling the cages of the machine in down-ballot races throughout the city.

These city-wide elections are important as progressives battle to defund and reform the atrocious New York Police Department.

Another interesting primary race on Tuesday is in Kentucky to challenge Mitch McConnell for the US senate seat. A Democratic party establishment candidate Amy McGrath won the nomination in 2014 but lost to McConnell. Since McConnell is such a vile person and so hated, money poured into McGrath’s campaign this year thinking that she had a lock on the nomination again. But a progressive candidate Charles Booker is challenging her strongly and is currently leading her by eight points in the polls. This has raised the issue of whether, if McGrath loses, she will use all that money to support Booker. People are arguing that she should because that money was given to defeat McConnell, not to provide a political slush fund for McGrath.

McGrath currently has $19 million in unspent cash, which she could legally funnel to independent efforts to beat McConnell should she lose the primary on Tuesday.

Instead, said the Working Families Party, McGrath must pledge that the funds will be used by the Democratic nominees against McConnell—whoever that nominee is.

“As the race tightens, McGrath owes her contributors an assurance that she’ll use their funds to take on the obstructionist Senate Majority Leader no matter who wins on Tuesday,” said Joe Dinkin, the party’s campaigns director. “We hope Amy will do the right thing and take the pledge.”

The call followed numerous recent endorsements for Booker, both from progressive leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), but also from less expected supporters.

Kentucky’s two largest newspapers, the Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader, both endorsed Booker in recent weeks, with the former writing, “Frankly, it’s time to shake up the establishment.”

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes—”very much a representative of the Kentucky Democratic establishment,” as journalist Krystal Ball tweeted—also announced her endorsement of Booker this week.

Unfortunately McConnell is favored to win in this very conservative state but his lead over Booker is smaller than his lead over McGrath.


  1. Allison says

    I’m glad to hear that Mondaire Jones is ahead. He was mounting a challenge to Republican-lite Nita Lowey even before she announced her retirement, which made me like him right there. (I’ve been wishing someone would challenge her ever since we moved to her district 30+ years ago.) I’m also glad to here that Adam Schleifer, who is independently wealthy (from the Pharma industry) and has rather obviously been trying to buy the election, is not doing well.

    Some other interesting races in my district: a woman with a rather explicitly progressive platform is challenging the Westchester County Democratic machine’s choice for county DA. The county DA’s office has traditionally supported the bigotries of the powerful, so if she wins, it might be a change. Who knows? Maybe the office will pursue cases based on what is just rather than just what will please the people who “own” the county.

    Our local assembly-critter, who has been a political hack ever since I heard of him (whenever I hear his name, the Gilbert & Sullivan song “When I Was a Lad” comes to mind.), is finally facing a challenger. There’s not been much noise about her in the press, though that’s no surprise, I guess.

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