Charlie Rangel’s Fate on the Line

Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:39pm

Voters in five states cast primary ballots today, deciding the political future of longtime Members such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) and 21-term Rep. Charlie Rangel (D).

While Hatch is expected to safely cruise to the GOP nomination in Utah, all eyes will be fixed on northern Manhattan, where Rangel’s fate is much less certain.

The longtime Harlem icon faces the toughest election of his long career. Since his last election, he has been bludgeoned by a Congressional censure over ethics violations, health woes, a newly configured district that is less favorable to him and an ambitious and credible challenger in state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D). Whether Rangel survives today is anyone’s guess, but any margin of victory in a crowded field is expected to be small.

For the first time in recent memory, New York is holding its Congressional primary in June instead of September. Low turnout is expected statewide, leaving open the possibility of some surprising outcomes tonight in a handful of races worth watching.

Also on the ballot in New York today is the GOP Senate primary between Rep. Bob Turner, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos and attorney Wendy Long. But it doesn’t matter who the winner is — he will be the heavy underdog against popular Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in November.

The other states besides Utah and New York holding primaries today are Colorado and Oklahoma, while South Carolina is holding a runoff in the state’s new Congressional district.

New York Primaries to Watch

Polls Open: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT in New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Erie. Noon to 9 p.m. EDT in other counties.

6th District Democratic Primary

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng is expected to win the Democratic primary in this open seat, but state Assemblyman Rory Lancman could surprise. Meng has support from powerful Queens County Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley and other influential elected officials. EMILY’s List has also gotten involved in the race, putting more than $100,000 behind Meng. New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who is Rep. Crowley’s cousin, may come in second, but no insiders expect her to win. Lancman has the backing of some unions, which could boost his supporters’ turnout, but Rep. Crowley’s borough machine is expected to help encourage turnout in Meng’s favor. And it’s not just the candidates who have something on the line today: Crowley will take a hit if Meng loses and will see his power consolidated if she wins, insiders said. The winner of the primary is expected to win in November.

7th District Democratic Primary

Vito Lopez, chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, has some skin in this primary. He’s backing New York City Councilman Erik Dilan against Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who has long been someone he would rather not see in Congress. Velázquez, by most accounts, took the threat seriously, worked hard and has positioned herself for a relatively comfortable victory tonight.

8th District Democratic Primary

The primary to replace retiring Rep. Edolphus Towns (D) is an interesting battle. It pits state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who has the backing from just about every important figure in the Empire State’s Democratic establishment, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, against New York City Councilman Charles Barron, whose views veer quite far from the establishment line. Jeffries, who became an Assemblyman in 2007, is seen as a rising star and has strong progressive bona fides that leave insiders thinking he has a future as a leader, should he get to Congress. Barron, who has voiced support for African dictators Robert Mugabe and the late Moammar Gadhafi, has a strong base of support in the district that shouldn’t be underestimated. Still, Jeffries is expected to win this one.

13th District Democratic Primary

If there’s one race to watch tonight, this is it. There is a very real chance that 82-year-old Rep. Charlie Rangel, who was first elected in 1970, will be unseated. His likely top competitor is ambitious state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who, if elected, would become the first Dominican-American Congressman. Also on the ballot are Clyde Williams, a former national political director at the Democratic National Committee, retired business executive Joyce Johnson and activist Craig Schley.

A few weeks ago, New York Democratic insiders believed Rangel was running a severely lackluster campaign but would squeak out a victory in a crowded field. Now those familiar with the race aren’t so sure.

“They never put together a professional campaign,” said one aide to a New York Democratic Member. “They could have, but they didn’t.”

“Charlie does not have much of an organization going on in the district,” one New York City Democratic insider said.

Espaillat, on the other hand, has put together what’s seen as a potent ground operation. One operative in the district noticed a “tremendous amount of activity” from Espaillat’s camp in recent days.

Williams got a real boost from the New York Times on June 16, when the paper of record, influential in parts of the district, gave him its endorsement. “He understands the area’s diverse needs and has plans for job creation, education and tax reform,” the Times wrote. Williams doesn’t appear as well-known as Espaillat or Rangel — most of Espaillat’s state Senate district is in the 13th and Rangel is an icon. But Williams could overperform and potentially surprise.

With low turnout, this is likely to be close.

18th District Democratic Primary

Democrats and Republicans familiar with this race believe attorney Sean Patrick Maloney, a former aide to Bill Clinton who has picked up the former president’s endorsement, is the strongest candidate because of his skill on the stump and fundraising prowess. He seems likely to beat physician Richard Becker, who appears to be his closest competitor. Democrats acknowledge Maloney has some weaknesses — he spent a good bit of time as a Manhattan attorney — but they think those disadvantages can be overcome with his fundraising.

Becker, who has had some success in getting good press recently (including an endorsement from the New York Times), has some genuine grass-roots support but probably not enough to win the nomination. The winner will move on to a highly competitive race this fall against freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R).

27th District Republican Primary

Former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, who has the backing of the local Republican establishment, is very likely to win the nomination to take on vulnerable Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul. Republican insiders have seen Collins aggressively campaigning in the primary against Iraq War veteran David Bellavia. This seat is considered Republicans’ top pickup opportunity in the Empire State this fall.

Oklahoma Primary to Watch

2nd district
Polls Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT

Rep. Dan Boren’s (D) retirement from this “Little Dixie” district in eastern Oklahoma delivered a prime pickup opportunity to Republicans. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried the district with 66 percent of the vote — although Boren always won re-election relatively easily.

The GOP primary field is large and varied. It includes plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin, former state Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, baptist pastor Dwayne Thompson, former Tishomingo Mayor Dustin Rowe, state Rep. George Faught and retired Marine Corps officer Dakota Wood.

Mullin remains the frontrunner, and a recent internal poll from his campaign showed him with a 15-point lead. But Sooner State Republicans caution his victory is far from a lock because the primary field is so large.

Democrats are optimistic that former assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Wallace will win their party’s nod. They believe he will have a better chance to save the seat than seed company owner Wayne Herriman in November. But Herriman has effectively used his deep pockets to get on the air and could surprise local Democrats with a victory tonight.

In recent weeks, both Democrats started running negative ads about their opponent — a telling sign the primary is more competitive than previously anticipated.

— Shira Toeplitz

South Carolina Primary to Watch

7th district
Polls Open: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EDT

Two primary runoffs will determine the candidates of both major parties in this GOP-leaning district anchored in Myrtle Beach. In the GOP primary, former Lt. Gov. André Bauer has been in a nasty battle with Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice. There’s an ongoing fight over who is more conservative. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) gave her endorsement to Rice on Friday, savaging Bauer’s credentials. But Bauer has always worked to position himself as the most conservative person in the race.

On the Democratic side, a judge’s Friday ruling means that there will, indeed, be a runoff between attorney Preston Brittain and economist and former Georgia state Rep. Gloria Bromell Tinubu. The South Carolina State Election Commission had originally said there would not be a runoff.

Brittain, who has establishment support and is seen as the only viable general election candidate, would appear to be the underdog. Bromell Tinubu topped him by a comfortable margin in the primary. But it is South Carolina, where anything can happen in politics.

— Joshua Miller