Progressives Just Had Their Best Primary Night of 2020

Former school principal Jamaal Bowman has a big lead over 16-term Democrat Eliot Engel, and Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres could become the first openly gay Black members of Congress.
June 24, 2020, 3:00pm
New York Democratic House candidate Jamaal Bowman greets supporters on June 23, 2020 in Yonkers, New York.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Progressives just had their best primary night of the 2020 election — and New York’s congressional delegation is going to look a lot more diverse, and lean a lot further left, in the next Congress.

Progressive former school principal Jamaal Bowman (D) has a big lead over centrist House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) that is all but certain to stand when all the votes are counted in the Bronx- and Westchester-based district.

He’ll likely be joined in Congress by Mondaire Jones, a progressive activist who won a suburban New York City seat held by retiring House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a close Pelosi ally. (Jones was already running against Lowey before she decided to retire last fall.)

New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D) is far ahead of a crowded pack of candidates in an open Bronx-based seat, and while many progressive activists had backed another candidate in this primary, he has a solidly liberal pedigree.

And in the surprise of the night, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) is clinging to just a 570-vote lead over progressive challenger Suraj Patel, with plenty of votes left to be counted. Maloney is likely the slight favorite in this contest, but she was expected to easily win this race after beating Patel by 20 points two years ago.

The results mark a generational, racial and ideological sea change for New York’s powerful congressional delegation.

Jones, who is Black, and Torres, who is Black and Hispanic, will be the first openly gay Black members of Congress. Torres will also be the first openly gay Hispanic member of Congress. Their wins replace two congressional members who’ve combined to serve more than six decades in Congress with two young millennials. Bowman, in his mid-40s, is almost three decades younger than Engel. And if Patel can come back against Maloney, he’d be another nonwhite 30-something candidate replacing a white septuagenarian House chair.

New York’s primary is still an ongoing process, and the state’s large number of mail-in ballots won’t be counted for a week. But Bowman’s 25-point lead is likely insurmountable, and election-day votes have given Torres and Jones big leads as well.

It wasn’t just in New York that progressive Black Democrats were performing much better than recent expectations. In Virginia, Cameron Webb, a 37-year-old Black physician, easily beat a better-funded candidate who had national support to win the nomination in a GOP-leaning open House seat Democrats hope to contest this fall.

And in Kentucky, where most of the vote has yet to be counted, early numbers suggest that progressive darling Charles Booker (D) was hanging in there against establishment favorite Amy McGrath for the Democratic primary to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) 2018 upset primary win over House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) made her somewhat of an outlier in the Democratic caucus — an avowedly progressive nonwhite Millennial joining a delegation of aging white old-line liberals. Tuesday’s election results just made her win look like a harbinger of the future of the party — at least in New York.

Cover: New York Democratic House candidate Jamaal Bowman greets supporters on June 23, 2020 in Yonkers, New York. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)