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Progressive Candidates—The AOC Wing Of The Party—Emerge From Tuesday’s Primary With Momentum


With many races in Tuesday’s primaries still too close to call as of Wednesday morning, progressive candidates appeared poised to knock off incumbents in several key contests and riding waves of momentum in others — a sign that the left-wing of the Democratic party could have legs in down-ballot races in 2020.


In Kentucky’s Senate primary, progressive State Rep. Charles Booker trailed by less than 10 points Wednesday with many votes still to be counted to establishment favorite Amy McGrath, a former marine and 2018 House candidate who has raised $41 million, in a high stakes contest to decide who will face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in November.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — who knocked off entrenched Congressman Rep. Joe Crowley in an upset win in 2018 — won easily in her first primary as an incumbent, beating a well-funded challenge from her right.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a veteran congressman from the Bronx, was staring down a steep deficit to progressive middle school principal Jamaal Bowman on Wednesday morning; Bowman has seen a surge in powerful endorsements and fundraising in recent weeks as criticism of Engel mounted.

Mondaire Jones, a Harvard educated lawyer backed by Ocasio-Cortez and seeking to become the first openly gay Black member of Congress, appeared poised to capture victory in a contest between seven Democrats for an open seat held by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) in a New York Hudson Valley district. 

Another New York incumbent, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), was neck and neck with insurgent challenger Suraj Patel, whom Maloney defeated in the 2018 primary, on Wednesday morning, leading Patel by just 1.5 points.

Progressive hopes appeared dashed, however, in the 9th district in Brooklyn, in which 6-term incumbent Rep. Yvette Clarke fared well in early returns in a rematch with progressive activist Adem Bunkeddeko, who lost to Clarke by just 3 points in a 2018 run.

Key background

Many races that would typically be called the night of the election will not be called for days as absentee ballots pour in, a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic prompting many voters to skip the trip to the voting booth and vote absentee instead. 


If Bowman holds on to defeat Engel, it’s possible by November there won’t be a straight white man representing any part of New York in Congress from Oneonta, New York to Central Park in Manhattan, as Dave Weigel of the Washington Post noted on Twitter.

In New York’s 15th congressional district, City Councilman Ritchie Torres appeared poised to defeat Rubén Díaz Sr., a conservative former state senator with a history of anti-gay remarks, and Assemblyman Michael Blake for an open seat. If Torres holds on, he and Jones stand to become the first openly gay Black members of Congress. Torres, however, wasn’t the top progressive pick.


On the Republican side, a Trump-backed candidate fell to an insurgent challenger on Tuesday: Lynda Bennett, backed by President Trump, lost to a 24-year-old political newcomer, Madison Cawthorn, in a race for a western North Carolina House seat left open by Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Further Reading

All The Potential Upsets In The New York And Kentucky Primaries (Forbes)

Lots of Drama but Little Certainty in Kentucky and New York Primaries (New York Times)

Liberal Democrats see momentum in New York, Kentucky primaries, but key races too close to call (CBS News)

AOC’s blowout win, last-minute voting in Kentucky and other key takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries (USA Today)

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