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Eliot Engel loses to Jamaal Bowman in New York primary

Bowman had backing of Justice Democrats, liberal leaders

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., talks with reporters in the Capitol in 2019.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., talks with reporters in the Capitol in 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than three weeks after New York’s primary, it’s now clear that Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel has lost his party’s nomination.

A surge of mail-in ballots delayed vote counting after the June 23 primary. Former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman led the longtime lawmaker on primary day and declared victory, while Engel declined to concede. On Friday, The Associated Press called the race for Bowman. 

Bowman painted Engel, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, as out of touch with the 16th District, which stretches from the North Bronx to southern Westchester County. 

Bowman with 56 percent to Engel’s 40 percent, with three other candidates sharing the rest, when the AP called the race.

The district was one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic and also the site of protests against racism and police brutality. Bowman sought to capitalize on The Atlantic’s reporting that Engel hadn’t returned to the district since the pandemic hit, and Bowman also emphasized his personal experience as a Black man.

Engel pushed back on those charges, arguing his seniority brought vital federal resources to the district. Engel also secured last-minute endorsements from party leaders including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Clinton. 

Liberal groups including Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party backed Bowman in the race. Bowman also had the backing of liberal leaders including Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Bowman’s victory is the second time liberals have unseated a Democratic incumbent in a primary this year. Marie Newman defeated Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in March. Bowman is expected to come to Congress next year given the district’s partisan lean. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic

Other New York City Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, Jerrod Nadler, and Yvette Clarke, fended off primary challengers. As of late Friday morning, Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s race against her 2018 primary opponent, Suraj Patel, remained too close to call.

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