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Progressives riding high as votes tabulated in NY, Kentucky

Progressives are riding high after Tuesday’s primary elections in New York and Kentucky have some of the left’s rising stars in position to potentially pull off upsets against candidates backed by Washington Democrats.

The primary races in many instances have not been called yet, with hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots still needing to be counted.

However, progressive Jamaal Bowman (D) has House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on the ropes after building up a 25-point lead among those who voted in-person.

In the night’s other marquee race, progressive challenger Charles Booker trails Amy McGrath by about 7 points in the Kentucky Democratic Senate primary. The state’s two most populous counties will not report results until June 30.

Elsewhere, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) overwhelmingly won her reelection bid against a high-profile challenge from news anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who had millions of dollars and top New York business leaders behind her.

Other progressive House candidates in New York — Mondaire Jones, Ritchie Torres and Dana Balter — have built up double-digit leads in their House primary races.

And insurgent Democrat Suraj Patel is running even with House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), underscoring the volatile landscape incumbents and Washington-backed candidates are facing at the moment.

The left-wing Working Families Party (WFP), which has its largest presence in New York, said Tuesday’s elections are evidence that the uprising in the streets over the police killing of George Floyd has ushered in a new era of political change in the U.S. that is being led by people of color.

“The rage and mourning we’ve seen in the streets is making itself felt in elections from New York to Kentucky,” said WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell.

“A remarkable cadre of candidates — Charles Booker, Jamaal Bowman, and Mondaire Jones — has gained momentum in recent weeks because they are speaking to people’s pain and hunger for transformational change. Win or lose, these Black progressive candidates are expanding the scope of the possible and laying the ground for the future of our work … Today we’re seeing that they may form the core of a new multiracial coalition that could change the balance of power in this country.”

Absentee ballots are still being counted in New York and Kentucky and the final results will not be known until June 30.

But Bowman, a former middle school principal from the Bronx, appears to be on the cusp of defeating Engel, a 16-term lawmaker. Bowman has 61 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning, compared to 36 percent for Engel.

That race cut sharply along progressive-establishment lines, with Engel having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Bowman is backed by Ocasio-Cortez and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Those same dynamics played out in Kentucky, where Booker became a national star on the left for his late push to knock off McGrath, who had a massive fundraising advantage with the help of Washington Democrats.

Booker, who is Black, has leaned heavily into the argument that he is best equipped to oversee the kind of structural change the nation needs at this moment of civil unrest.

Progressives are striking a confident tone on Booker’s behalf, with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) calling on McGrath to pledge to put her excess campaign cash behind Booker in the general election against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), if he becomes the nominee.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a fundraising juggernaut with one of the largest House campaign staffs in the country, was never really in trouble despite the high-profile challenge from Caruso-Cabrera.

But progressives are celebrating her dominant victory as evidence that they have cemented themselves in the mainstream. In 2018, Ocasio-Cortez stunned the political world with her shocking victory over then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).

“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not only proved that her historic victory in 2018 was no fluke, she firmly established herself as a political powerhouse who will be critical to building a more progressive Democratic Party in the years ahead,” said Yvette Simpson, CEO of the progressive group Democracy for America.

Progressives are salivating over what they view as the next potential crop of political stars to follow in Ocasio-Cortez’s footsteps.

Jones has a 24-point lead over his closest rival in the packed crowd of candidates seeking to replace Rep. Nita Lowey (D) in New York’s 17th District and is backed by Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez.

Getting Jones elected was a top priority for the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC. The group spent about $200,000 backing Jones’s candidacy, its first-ever independent expenditure.

In New York’s 15th District, Torres has an 11-point lead over a crowded field vying to replace retiring Rep. José Serrano (D). The progressive super PAC Voter Protection Project was the largest outside spender in the race, putting more than $500,000 behind TV, mail, digital and text ads backing Torres.

Torres, 32, is Black, Puerto Rican and gay. He was a 2016 delegate for Sanders’s presidential campaign.

Jones and Torres, if elected, would become the first openly gay Black men in Congress. 

And progressive favorite Dana Balter appears to be on course to win her primary in New York’s 24th District to challenge Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).

Balter has about a 30-point lead over Francis Conole, who had the support of local Democratic leaders.

“This is one of the last districts in America that Hillary Clinton won but is held by Republicans, making this a top pick-up opportunity in the country for progressives,” said Maria Langholz, the national press secretary for the PCCC. “Balter is a bold progressive champion who is fighting for Medicare for All, an economy that works for working families, and a political system free from the influence of big money.’

Progressives are now turning their attention to upcoming primary races.

Several left-wing groups have backed Democrat Andrew Romanoff in the Colorado Senate primary against former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is the progressive favorite as he seeks reelection against Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.).

The left is also hoping to elect House candidates across the country, including Arati Kreibich in New Jersey, Jon Hoadley in Michigan and Candace Valenzuela and Mike Siegel in Texas.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andrew Cuomo Bernie Sanders Carolyn Maloney Chuck Schumer Democratic primaries Ed Markey Eliot Engel Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Crowley Joe Kennedy John Hickenlooper John Katko Jose Serrano Kentucky Mitch McConnell New York Nita Lowey

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