Sat. Jul 13th, 2024




CNN
 — 

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman lost his Democratic primary to Westchester County Executive George Latimer, marking the first defeat for a member of the House “Squad” of progressive lawmakers.

The result in New York’s 16th Congressional District is also a victory for pro-Israel groups, which backed Latimer with historic levels of spending during the campaign. According to ad tracking firm AdImpact, the race was the most expensive House primary on record.

Bowman, 48, a former middle school principal in the Bronx, was first elected in 2020 after unseating longtime Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, a pro-Israel hawk, in the primary. That race, much like this one, centered on accusations that the incumbent had lost touch with the diverse, but heavily segregated district, which spans parts of Bronx and Westchester counties.

Latimer, 70, a Democratic political fixture for decades who entered the race at the urging of pro-Israel groups, argued that Bowman’s vocal opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza and his combative political style were out of step with the electorate, which includes a significant Jewish population in Westchester.



00:49 – Source: CNN

Watch Bowman and Latimer address their supporters after race

But a campaign that was widely expected to highlight rifts in the Democratic coalition over Israel and Gaza soon morphed into something more fraught, as issues of race and class at home – papered over for years in a diverse but largely segregated district – came together to create one of the ugliest Democratic primaries in years. Latimer, in arguing Bowman’s political style was unbecoming and mismatched to the district’s electorate, said the incumbent’s “constituency is Dearborn, Michigan,” the majority Arab American midwestern city, and in an interview last week, argued that Bowman enjoyed “an obvious ethnic benefit.” Bowman was the first Black man elected to represent the New York district.

Already under fire over his call for a ceasefire days after Hamas’ October 7 attack inside Israel, Bowman damaged any chance of rapprochement with liberal pro-Israel voters when, in mid-November, he told a small gathering of pro-Palestinian protesters that reports of sexual violence by Hamas were “propaganda.” (He later apologized, acknowledging a United Nations report.) In January, J Street – a liberal pro-Israel group that previously backed Bowman – rescinded its endorsement of the congressman, citing broad “differences between us in framing and approach.”

Latimer celebrated his victory on Tuesday night by telling supporters, in a clear jab at Bowman, that the results meant “we turn a page and we say that we believe in inclusion of everybody in our representation.”

“We have to fight to make sure that we do not vilify each other, that we remember that we’re all Americans and that our common future is bound together,” Latimer added. “This country cannot afford to splinter into little pieces and every single representative has to understand the necessity for unity so that we can move forward as a nation.”

Bowman at his own election night gathering in Yonkers conceded defeat but looked ahead to bigger fights on the horizon.

“We musn’t ever stop. This race was never about me and me alone. It was never about this district and this district alone,” Bowman said. “It was always about all of us. Now our opponents, not opponent, may have won this round at this time, in this place. But this will be a battle for our humanity and justice for the rest of our lives.”

By the final days of the campaign, progressives had dug in deep in their bid to hold Bowman’s seat amid an advertising onslaught led by the United Democracy Project, the super PAC of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. UDP spent about $15 million, while another outside group, Democratic Majority for Israel, invested a little more than $1 million. A third PAC, the crypto-aligned Fairshake, also backed Latimer with more than $2 million in spending.

The expenditures for Latimer outpaced the spending on Bowman’s behalf – from Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC – by a more than 7-1 margin.

At a rally for Bowman on Saturday in the South Bronx – outside the district’s border – Sen. Bernie Sanders warned that the outcome in the 16th District would radiate across the country.

“This election is one of the most important in the modern history of America. It really is,” the Vermont independent said. “Because this election is not about Jamaal vs. Mr. Latimer. This election is about whether or not the billionaire class and the oligarchs will control the United States government.”

Mark Mellman, a longtime political strategist and founder of Democratic Majority for Israel, said that the New York race would have an impact on future contests.

“Elections carry messages and politicians always interpret elections. And I will say members of the press also interpret elections,” he said. “It’s important that the message of this election be that being pro-Israel is not just wise policy, it’s also smart politics.”

But Mellman, who said his group had polling that showed Bowman trailing Latimer by double digits before the television blitz began, insisted the Israel debate sometimes obscured Bowman’s more basic problems.

“He and his language are divisive,” Mellman said. “And whether he is talking at the rally the other day, or whether he is talking about Israel in general, or he is talking about other issues, he’s very divisive.”

Speaking before Sanders and after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the weekend, Bowman opened with a salty stemwinder aimed at AIPAC.

“We are going to show f**king AIPAC the power of the motherf**king South Bronx,” Bowman said. “People ask me why I got a foul mouth,” he added, accusing his opponents of attacking his family. “What am I supposed to do?”

Bowman on Tuesday night seemed to allude to that moment – and what his critics and rivals described as “divisive” rhetoric.

“I would like to make a public apology for sometimes using foul language,” Bowman said. “But we should not be well adjusted to a sick society.”

Progressive groups lashed out late Tuesday after the race was called for Latimer. Calling Bowman “one of the most transformational leaders of our generation,” Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas, whose group recruited Bowman to run in 2020, echoed Sanders days earlier.

“This race for AIPAC – the single largest outside group spending in Democratic primaries – is so much bigger than re-electing a Congressman,” Rojas said in a statement. “It is part of their final attempts to stop a rising tide of a new generation of voters and leaders who refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice at home or abroad.”

AIPAC’s political arm entered the primary season pledging to spend, along with its affiliated groups, up to $100 million across the board against candidates critical of Israel’s war with Hamas. But their spending had failed to move the dial in any key races before Tuesday.

Bowman, who was among the first federal lawmakers to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, had already fallen out with parts of the district. His occasionally odd behavior – including an incident when he pulled a fire alarm in the Capitol – damaged his standing with even some liberal supporters. Latimer, who is popular with local establishment figures – including Hillary Clinton, who endorsed him – entered the campaign as a familiar face promising a more restrained political manner.

Latimer is seen as a shoo-in for the general election in the deep-blue district, which would have backed Joe Biden under the current lines by 45 points in 2020. Former Scarsdale Mayor Miriam Flisser was unopposed for the Republican nomination.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.




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