Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) embraces Rep. Summer Lee (D-Penn.)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) embraces Rep. Summer Lee (D-Penn.) during a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 21, 2024.

(Photo: Nate Smallwood for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Defeating 'MAGA Dark Money,' Summer Lee Wins Primary in Landslide

"This is a huge testament to our collective strength and resilience as a progressive movement," said the executive director of Justice Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, a member of the progressive "Squad," won the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District on Tuesday, fending off an opponent whose campaign was backed by a billionaire Republican megadonor and ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lee, a vocal critic of the Netanyahu government and leading supporter of a cease-fire in Gaza, handily defeated Bhavini Patel, a borough councilmember in Edgewood, Pennsylvania whose effort to unseat the progressive incumbent was bankrolled by Jeffrey Yass, the state's richest man. Patel actively courted Republican and pro-Israel voters, characterizing Lee as "fringe."

With more than 95% of the vote counted, Lee is ahead of Patel by more than 20 percentage points.

"I am so humbled and proud to win my first primary reelection to be the congresswoman for this incredible district I've spent my life fighting for," Lee said after the race was called in her favor. "Our campaign was built on a record of delivering for our democracy, defending our most fundamental rights, and expanding our vision for what is politically possible for our region's most marginalized communities."

"Our victory is a rejection of right-wing interests and Republican billionaires using corporate super PACs to target Black and brown Democrats in our primaries—be it AIPAC or Moderate PAC or any other MAGA billionaire in Democratic clothing," Lee added. "Western PA is the blueprint for the future all of America deserves."

Through the misleadingly named Moderate PAC, Yass—a prolific tax dodger who has been floated as a possible treasury secretary pick if former President Donald Trump wins another term—spent hundreds of thousands of dollars boosting Patel and attacking Lee.

Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn Political Action, said that by ushering Lee to victory, residents of Pennsylvania's 12th District "soundly rejected MAGA dark money."

"MoveOn members are ready to defeat this dangerous flood of dark-money spending against progressive champions and ensure that we continue to elect working-class people to Congress," said Epting.

"Now that it's clear Summer won her primary, AIPAC's super PAC has already officially failed at their one goal for this cycle: taking out the entire Squad."

During her 2022 campaign, Lee faced and overcame huge spending by the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC via its super PAC, the United Democracy Project. But the organization opted to stay on the sidelines this time around, even as it plans to spend $100 million to defeat progressives in this year's cycle amid growing public opposition to Israel's war on Gaza.

"They had every intention of spending in this race—but they didn't, because they realized they would likely lose," Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas wrote in an email late Tuesday. "And that is because all of us had Summer's back and supported her campaign to out-organize AIPAC in every way."

"This is a huge testament to our collective strength and resilience as a progressive movement," said Rojas. "Now that it's clear Summer won her primary, AIPAC's super PAC has already officially failed at their one goal for this cycle: taking out the entire Squad."

While AIPAC ultimately sat out the Pennsylvania race, it is devoting considerable resources to ousting other progressive lawmakers, including Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.).

The pro-Israel lobbying group has endorsed Bush challenger Wesley Bell, calling him a "strong advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship." As The Guardianreported last week, Bell has "raised more than $650,000 in earmarked contributions through the group Democracy Engine Inc. PAC—a donation platform that allows unpopular PACs to obscure their donations and lists AIPAC as a client on its LinkedIn page."

AIPAC is the largest donor to Bowman challenger George Latimer, who has supported Israel's war on Gaza and denied that Israel is committing genocide. The Democratic primary for New York's 16th Congressional District is on June 25.

Michele Weindling, political director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said Tuesday that following Lee's victory, "we're ramping up to take on AIPAC in Jamaal Bowman's race."

"With a candidate like George Latimer willing to sell their lies to the district, we are going to prove once again that a politician's commitment to their community beats dark money every time," said Weindling. "Whether it's in Pittsburgh or New York, Minneapolis or St. Louis, our generation is going to send billionaires packing and reelect the squad."

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