Bowman loses New York primary in blow to progressives

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George Latimer has unseated Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th Congressional District, Decision Desk HQ projects, delivering a stinging blow to progressives in what has been the party’s most divisive primary of the cycle.

Latimer, a Westchester County executive, defeated Bowman in a fierce contest that became a proxy battle between differing ideological factions of the Democratic Party, with the pivotal issue separating the candidates being their stances toward Israel amid the country’s ongoing war with Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Millions of dollars poured into the race from both inside and outside the district, making it the most expensive House primary in history. Leaders of both wings of the party weighed in, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) endorsing the moderate Latimer, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) supported Bowman. 

Bowman became a member of the “Squad,” a group of the most progressive Democrats in the House, after winning his House seat in 2020. His first election came through his own successful primary challenge to unseat a moderate longtime incumbent, then-Rep. Eliot Engel (D). 

His race against Latimer laid bare the divisions within the Democratic Party that have been even more pronounced in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed roughly 1,200 people. The riff has grown as the death toll in Gaza has continued to climb since Israel launched its counteroffensive, surpassing 35,000, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry. 

Latimer centered much of his campaign around Bowman’s comments and votes regarding the conflict. He has gone after Bowman for calling for a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas as well as opposing additional arms shipments to Israel. 

Latimer also slammed the incumbent’s comments in November calling reports of Hamas committing rape and other sexual violence on Oct. 7 “lies” and “propaganda.” Bowman later walked back those comments and apologized for them last week, saying he voted to condemn the sexual violence that occurred after the United Nations provided additional evidence that it happened. 

But Latimer supporters used Bowman’s comments about the sexual violence that occurred in mailers to voters to attack him. 

Some Democratic voters demonstrated the divide in the party over the war through the presidential primaries, with a relatively small but not insignificant portion of voters choosing an “uncommitted” option instead of voting for President Biden to protest his administration’s handling of the war. 

But this was the clearest face-off yet between the factions within the party. 

The battle between Latimer and Bowman grew intense at times, especially during the few debates they engaged in. 

Latimer alleged that Bowman’s words have undermined Israel’s right to defend itself and exist and accused Bowman of ignoring constituents like those who are Asian or not Black or brown. Meanwhile, Bowman accused Latimer of using a “racist dog whistle” in saying Bowman’s “constituency” was Dearborn, Mich., a predominantly Arab American area represented by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), another Squad member and staunch Israel critic. 

Both rejected the allegations. 

The 16th District is a heavily Jewish area but also has Arab American residents. 

Polling in the lead-up to the primary showed that Bowman could be highly vulnerable to being ousted. Latimer led Bowman in a poll from earlier this month by 17 points. 

Bowman’s loss makes him the first incumbent House Democrat to lose a primary challenge this election cycle. Latimer is almost certain to win the House seat in November in the solidly blue district.

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