Facing down millions of dollars in corporate dark money and an opponent backed by some of the biggest names in the Democratic establishment, progressive educator and former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman jumped out to a formidable lead Tuesday over hawkish 16-term incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel in the closely watched Democratic primary race in New York's 16th Congressional District.
With 92% of precincts reporting as of early Wednesday morning, Bowman leads Engel—chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee—60.9% to 35.6%. It is unclear when the final results will be reported, particularly given the massive influx of absentee ballots as a record number of New Yorkers voted by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. Absentee ballots aren't fully counted in New York until a week after the election.
"Tonight as we celebrate, we don't just celebrate me as an individual; we celebrate this movement. A movement designed to push back against a system that's literally killing us."
But Bowman, running on a platform of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal with the backing of grassroots progressives, appeared well-positioned to unseat Engel in the entrenched Democratic congressman's first competitive primary in two decades.
In a speech to supporters Tuesday, Bowman condemned a "fractured, and corrupt, and rotten" political and economic system that has left millions behind while creating enormous wealth for a very few.
"Poverty, and the impact of poverty on our children, and dealing with issues of institutional racism, and sexism, and classism, and xenophobia, and everything that keeps the majority of us oppressed is what we designed this campaign to fight against," said Bowman.
"So tonight as we celebrate, we don't just celebrate me as an individual. We celebrate this movement," Bowman continued. "A movement designed to push back against a system that's literally killing us. It's killing black and brown bodies disproportionately, but it's killing all of us."
Jamaal Bowman, who has a lead in his primary against Eliot Engel, just spoke to supporters. "Our movement is designed to restore that faith, to restore that hope, to bring back the belief in what is possible, to root our values in everything we do." pic.twitter.com/wkt0E0gd6Z
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Bowman's 25-point lead over Engel, as The Intercept's Aída Chávez reported, comes "despite a last-ditch effort to save the hawkish Democrat, including an endorsement by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
"Pro-Israel groups also scrambled to save the 16-term incumbent," Chávez noted, "spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his re-election."
As the results of the race trickled in late Tuesday, progressives said a Bowman victory would strike a major blow to the Democratic establishment and demonstrate once again that it is possible for candidates running unabashedly left-wing campaigns to oust seemingly untouchable incumbents.
"If Jamaal Bowman defeats Eliot Engel, it will be a shattering loss for the Democratic Party establishment," tweeted progressive organizer Max Berger. "They threw everything at him: $5 million in dark money smear ads, endorsements from Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and Chuck Schumer. And he still won."