Progressives did well on Tuesday

Ryan Grim and Akela Lacey wrote last week about some interesting Democratic primary races where progressive candidates were competing against establishment incumbents or establishment-supported candidates to replace retiring incumbents.

So how did they do? Pretty well, it turns out.

One big win was that Jamaal Bowman defeated Eliot Engel in the Bronx congressional district in New York City. Engel has been in Congress since 1989, was high in the party leadership, and the party establishment pulled out all the stops to try and help him retain his seat, seeing this as another major threat to its control, the way that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset another senior party leader Joe Crowley in 2018. But it was to no avail.

Incidentally, Engel is one of the most loyal members of the Israel lobby, a position increasingly unpopular in the Democratic party as its membership increasingly recognizes that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in unjust.

For 31 years, Engel has embodied the Democrat Party establishment’s hawkish politics on Israel: staunchly opposed to any U.S. pressure on Israel over human rights abuses, nominally in favor of negotiations with Palestinians, and dismissive of suggestions that Israeli settlement building on Palestinian land is a core obstacle to those very same negotiations.

“Representative Eliot Engel has been among the most hawkish of legislators when it comes to US policy toward Israel with very little to distinguish him from his Republican colleagues,” said Palestinian human rights lawyer Zaha Hassan. “With a Democratic Party that prioritizes promotion of democracy and human rights abroad and a base that is growing increasingly progressive, Engel, sitting as a gatekeeper on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took positions in line with Israel’s extreme right-wing government.“

While Bowman would undoubtedly be better on the issue, he has been treading warily.

While Israel lobby groups attempted to paint Bowman as some kind of wild-eyed anti-Israel extremist, his rhetoric was moderate on the Jewish state, much closer to the rhetoric of J Street, the liberal Jewish pro-Israel group, than to any Palestinian group.

That this result has shaken up the party, there can be no doubt. The Onion had an amusing piece titled Nancy Pelosi Calls Jamaal Bowman To Scold Him For Winning Primary.

WASHINGTON—Following the progressive challenger’s victory over 16-term incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi phoned Jamaal Bowman to scold him for winning his primary race, sources confirmed Wednesday. “I just wanted to call and personally reprimand you for your victory,” said Pelosi, extending her sincerest indignation to the former Bronx middle school educator, who is expected to easily win the general election in his heavily Democratic congressional district. “I understand there are some mail-in ballots that still need to be counted, but it appears you won big last night and energized a lot of first-time voters and young people we absolutely did not want voting in this primary. So allow me to extend my sincerest fuck-you for everything you’ve done. Obviously, we’re going to be working together soon, so I look forward to crushing you the first chance I get.” Pelosi added that when things became official in November, she would call again to express how frustrated she was to welcome Bowman to Congress.

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a Wall Street-backed candidate, tried to unseat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, no doubt in an effort to stop the progressive surge within the party that AOC symbolized. But she got absolutely crushed. Election day ballots showed AOC winning by a 70-19% margin. Attempts to portray AOC as a socialist and out-of-touch failed miserably.

The congresswoman and her campaign have portrayed Caruso-Cabrera as a candidate backed by corporate interests and Trump allies, highlighting media reports that financial executives and pro-Trump donors have contributed to Caruso-Cabrera.

Ocasio-Cortez has also gone after her primary opponent for having once been a registered Republican and living in a Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan before moving to the district last year.

In response, Caruso-Cabrera has argued she is more committed to the district than the congresswoman and has said she is a true Democrat, while calling Ocasio-Cortez a Democratic socialist.

The socialist boogey did not seem to scare voters. Bowman has also not shied away from that label.

There are other races still to be decided in NYC because of the number of mail-in ballots to be counted, such as the one where incumbent Carolyn Maloney, who has been in congress since 1993, is facing a spirited challenge from Suraj Patel.

Meanwhile in the Kentucky Democratic senate primary to see who challenges Mitch McConnell in November, progressive Charlie Booker so far seems to be running slightly ahead of Amy McGrath despite McGrath raising enormous amounts of money. While it would be really sweet to see McConnell lose, the reality is that this is going to be very difficult for either of them defeat him because he has a lot of money, has created a machine in that state, and is a ruthless campaigner who will do and say anything to win. The fact that even he is facing a strong challenge is, however, a sign of nationwide Republican weakness.

Meanwhile Cameron Webb has won the Democratic nomination to a congressional seat in Virginia to challenge the utterly awful Republican candidate Bob Good whom I wrote about earlier. This will be a tough seat to win since that district, in which the outgoing Republican incumbent was defeated by Good, is a strong Republican seat. Virginia is a politically ambiguous state with pockets of strong Republican areas and strong Democratic ones, but with recent gains by Democrats resulting in them controlling the governorship and both state legislative bodies. So how well Webb does in November will be a good measure as to whether that Democratic trend is continuing.

So all in all, Tuesday’s elections were good for progressives.


  1. Matt G says

    I drove into Manhattan on Tuesday to vote for Suraj Patel. I’ve actually met Carolyn Maloney, and never thought poorly of her (until recently), but we need more progressives and progressive ideas in Washington. Patel has been described as a “challenger from the left), but calls himself an “Obama Democrat,” which seems a bit odd. He’s really gone after Maloney for dabbling in anti-vaxx propaganda. As you mention, Mano, there are tons of votes still to be counted. Patel’s campaign sent out an email yesterday asking for money (duh), but also for volunteers with law experience to help oversee the count. Patel has NOT been mentioned in any of the emails I get from Bernie Sanders. I think (hope) the good news is that establishment democrats are seeing which way the wind is blowing, and recognize they need to stop being “lite” republicans.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    I got to vote for Webb in the primary — he’s a fantastic candidate. Democrats won the district back in 2008, so there is some hope. Also, his opponent’s main platform is anti-gay marriage, so he isn’t exactly in tune with the times.

    Another interesting thing is that the Republicans selected their candidate by a drive-in convention that took place in a parking lot — which just happened to be the parking lot of the church which the winning candidate attended. The loser of the primary (who is the incumbent) is screaming foul about the committee putting their thumb on the scales, and the winner also may not have done his paperwork correctly, so there are all sorts of fits going on in the other side of the aisle.

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