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Bowman ousted in New York primary that drew millions in spending

Westchester County Executive George Latimer got huge boost from pro-Israel groups

Rep. Jamaal Bowman lost the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th District on Tuesday.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman lost the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th District on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Jamaal Bowman came to Congress having ousted a Democratic committee chair in a 2020 primary. The New York Democrat found himself on the other side of a primary challenge on Tuesday, losing a race that AdImpact said was the most expensive House primary in history.  

George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, had 58 percent of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon, according to The Associated Press, which called the race on Tuesday less than an hour after the polls closed.

The Democratic primary for New York’s 16th District became a proxy war for the party’s stance on the war in Gaza. Bowman was among the first members of Congress to call for a cease-fire and said Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, while Latimer represented a more moderate position. 

Latimer, a longtime local official who previously served in the state Assembly and Senate, outraised Bowman, while outside groups spent heavily on the race. The United Democracy Project, an arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, spent $14.5 million on the race, while the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC spent another $948,000. Bowman’s allies, including Justice Democrats PAC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, spent $2.8 million to boost him and oppose Latimer. 

At his election night party on Tuesday, Bowman didn’t back down from his stance on Israel or other progressive positions, like “Medicare for All” and universal child care. 

“Our opponents … may have won this round at this time in this place. But this will be a battle for our humanity and justice for the rest of our lives,” he said.

AIPAC could next target Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, another progressive whose primary is scheduled for August. Politico reported on Wednesday that a new poll from The Mellman Group found Bush and Democratic challenger Wesley Bell are in a tight race. 

Still, the race highlighted Bowman’s other vulnerabilities. He pulled a fire alarm in a House office building ahead of a government funding vote last fall, which led to the House voting to censure him and his pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. He also voted against an infrastructure bill, one of President Joe Biden’s biggest legislative accomplishments, which Latimer criticized him for. 

Latimer’s roots in the district may have also played a role in his win. Taegan Goddard, a 16th District resident and publisher of the Political Wire website, called him “one of the most skilled retail politicians I’ve ever seen.” 

He wrote that Bowman “pretty much ignored his district.” 

Latimer emphasized bipartisanship in a victory speech on Tuesday night. 

“There are good men and women in Washington who feel the same way we do. And we have to find each other and lead with each other,” he said. “We have to look at the arguments of the far right and the far left and say, ‘You cannot destroy this country with your rhetoric and your arguments.’”

In a statement, AIPAC said Latimer’s win “represents a major victory for the Democratic mainstream that stands with the Jewish state.” Voters, the group said, “rejected his opponent’s vituperative barrage of scurrilous attacks against the pro-Israel community.”

Atu Shiney-Ajay, executive director of the liberal Sunrise Movement, said in a statement that the heavy spending against Bowman was because opponents “are terrified of the movement he represents.”

“AIPAC knows that the tide is turning and they are increasingly unpopular,” Shiney-Ajay said. “Our vision, Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and Palestinian liberation will win the era, even if we lose some fights along the way.”

Latimer was endorsed by former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also won support from former Rep. Mondaire Jones, who first came to Congress alongside Bowman and is running in the neighboring 17th District against GOP Rep. Mike Lawler, as well as New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Bowman, meanwhile, was backed by the top three Democrats in the House. Days before the primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and fellow New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez headlined a campaign rally for him. Sanders blamed Bowman’s loss on a “corrupt campaign finance system which allows billionaire-funded super PACs to buy elections.”

Joseph Geevarghese, director of Our Revolution, a grassroots group that grew out of Sanders’ presidential campaigns, said Bowman was defeated because he had “the moral courage to speak out against his constituents’ taxpayer dollars funding war crimes in Gaza.”

“Hillary Clinton and other establishment Democrats who supported Bowman’s challenger like to parade around as champions of Democracy,” Geevarghese said. “When push comes to shove, though, they lack the backbone to call out the broken system that allows Democratic primaries to be sold to the highest bidder.”

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