Engel Imperiled by Challenge From Left as Vote Counts Delayed


Veteran House Democrat Eliot Engel risked falling to a strong challenge from a progressive newcomer Jamaal Bowman in New York’s primary Tuesday, but a deluge of absentee voting triggered by the coronavirus pandemic left the outcome of that race and other key contests unsettled.

Bowman assumed the mantle of victor as he addressed supporters and staff after polls closed Tuesday night, while conceding the outcome was not decided.

“If the results continue to bear out as they are bearing out this evening, and we get to Congress, it will be our job to hold Donald Trump accountable,” Bowman told the crowd.

Bowman had 60% of the of the votes that have been been counted, but that doesn’t include mail-in ballots that may account for more than half of the total votes cast. Still, Dave Wasserman, House analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said on Twitter that he expected Bowman would prevail.

The flood of mail-in ballots slowed the count in New York and in Kentucky, where Democrats were choosing a candidate to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

Some outcomes, particularly in close races, might not be known for at least a week as officials check and tally mailed ballots. That could be a preview of the November general election and the possibility the nation won’t know the results of the races for control of the White House and Congress for days after the Nov. 3 vote.

President Donald Trump, who’s been trailing Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in polls, has been criticizing the practice of voting by mail as an opportunity for fraud, an allegation not substantiated by evidence. Democrats are pressing for wider use of mailed ballots.

At an event Tuesday in Phoenix, Trump said widespread use of mailed ballots would be “a disaster for our country” and make the Nov. 3 vote “the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”

Voter fears about about casting ballots in person while the virus is still circulating resulted in more than 1.8 million requests for mail-in ballots in New York, more than 10 times the number from four years ago, according to the New York Board of Elections. In Kentucky, the state sent out 883,000 absentee ballots and more than 100,000 people took advantage of early voting.

“Absentee ballot counting will not begin until around July 1st. Any ballot postmarked by June 23, 2020 and received by the Board by June 30, 2020 will be counted,” said Cheryl Couser, deputy director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections.

As expected, Biden was declared the winner of the Democratic presidential primaries in New York and Kentucky. He has already sewn up the party’s nomination. Only Kentucky had a GOP presidential primary and Trump was unchallenged.

The president did have a defeat on primary night when the candidate he endorsed lost a runoff election in North Carolina to fill the seat vacated by Mark Meadows when he became White House chief of staff. Madison Cawthorn, a 24-year-old real estate executive, easily defeated Lynda Bennett, who Meadows had backed as his replacement. Cawthorn will face Democrat Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel, in the general election for the 11th District seat.

The New York race between Engel and Bowman is being closely watched by the establishment Democratic leaders and the party’s progressive wing, which has had only limited success in its ambition to advance a more liberal agenda.

Sixteen-term representative Engel, 73, was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and former New York Senator Hillary Clinton; New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo; Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, and other Democratic New York state officials.

Bowman, 44, had the backing of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary defeat of a long-time Democratic incumbent in a neighboring district two years ago made her a star of the progressive movement.

The race will test whether the campaign by progressives for a changing of the guard in the party can succeed in an an urban congressional district with a population that is now 63% non-white. Amid sweeping civil rights protests in America, the bid by Bowman, who is Black, has gained momentum.

A Bowman win, like Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in 2018 against then-House Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, would mark a loss for another White incumbent who had become a power broker on Capitol Hill but came under criticism that he was out of touch with a changing district.

The winner of the Democratic primary in the district is all but assured to win in November.

New York Contests

Representative Carolyn Maloney, like Engel a committee chairman, was also facing a strong challenge from progressive candidate Suraj Patel for the seat representing Manhattan’s East Side and part of Queens.

Other races of note in New York include multi candidate scrums for the safe Democratic seats being vacated by veteran Representatives Nita Lowey and Jose Serrano. Another Black progressive candidate endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez, Mondaire Jones, was building a substantial lead in the eight-way race in Lowey’s district.

Jones, is openly gay, as is New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who was was holding a significant edge in the crowded contest to succeed Serrano.

In one of the few races called Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez easily defeated her long-shot challenger, former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who drew support from Wall Street donors including Blackstone Group Inc. co-founder Stephen Schwarzman and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Solomon.

Similar to the Engel-Bowman contest, the Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky has Kentucky state Representative Charles Booker, a Black progressive, vying against Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who had been party leaders’ choice.

Booker, 35, also is endorsed by Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez and campaigned on his support for universal health care, investments in new environmentally friendly industries, and the idea of a universal basic income provided by the government. McGrath, 45, campaigned as a moderate able to work with Trump, who trounced Clinton in the state in 2016.

McGrath, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. House seat in 2018, had raised $41 million from donors eager to defeat the Republican Senate leader, compared with only $800,000 for Booker by June 3, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

McConnell easily won his primary.

Voting at Fairgrounds

The pandemic significantly altered voting in Kentucky on Tuesday. In Jefferson County, home to the state’s largest city, Louisville, where there was only one polling station to service 616,000 voters. It was at the Kentucky Fairgrounds Expo Center with more than 400 voting booths.

Officials for the Kentucky Board of Elections, an independent bipartisan agency, said the changes to the system to respond to Covid-19 concerns were made unanimously and approved by bipartisan votes at all levels. For the first time, the state allowed mail-in voting, sending a ballot request form to all voters in the mail and allowed two weeks of early voting.

Political analysts said there is little historical precedent for predicting what type of candidate might have an upper hand in absentee ballots that are cast by the thousands because of public health concerns. In this environment, it is uncertain whether absentee voting is likely to be embraced more by traditional Democratic voters or the progressives clamoring for bold change.

“I think we’re in uncharted territory in that regard,” Wasserman said in an interview.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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