Several top Democratic figures have endorsed embattled Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in recent days as part of an eleventh hour effort to boost the long-time Bronx congressman, who faces a fierce primary challenge from progressive Jamaal Bowman that has been strengthened by a number of gaffes and missteps by the incumbent.
UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 18: Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., talks with reporters after a meeting of the … [+]
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Engel has taken heat for staying in Washington, D.C., for much of the coronavirus pandemic despite claiming to have attended several events in the 16th congressional district, which encompasses hard hit areas of Westchester and the Bronx.
He exacerbated his problems in June when he was caught on a hot mic angling to speak at a news conference following a night of vandalism amid George Floyd protests, saying, “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
The latest blow came on Monday, when The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and Akela Lacy reported that a Republican super PAC was diverting money through a Democratic pro-Israel PAC into the heavily Democratic district to assist Engel.
An entrenched incumbent like Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee currently running for his 21st term, might normally be able to weather such a storm, but progressive primary challenger Jamaal Bowman isn’t letting him off easy.
Bowman, a middle school principal, has seen a surge of support in recent weeks since Engel’s scandals have compounded, winning endorsements from the New York Times, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Scott Stringer, and State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who unendorsed Engel to back Bowman.
But Engel has also been the recipient of a rescue effort from his congressional colleagues, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Judiciary Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) endorsing him in recent weeks, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsing him on Monday, her first House primary endorsement of the 2020 cycle.
Engel wouldn’t be the first powerful New York incumbent to lose renomination in recent cycles. In many ways, his woes resemble those of former House Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, who was defeated in his primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Like Crowley, Engel hasn’t faced a truly competitive election in decades. Crowley was subject of a damning Intercept article shortly before his primary that alleged that he used his powerful perch to enrich his friends through his lobbyist brother.
$431,000. In another sign of strength for Bowman, he managed to outraise Engel between April 1 and June 3–an impressive feat for a primary challenger–reporting $431,000 to Engel’s $389,000. But Engel still held a significant cash-on-hand advantage, with an $826,000 warchest compared to Bowman’s $345,000. Still, Bowman has been narrowing that gap, reporting $600,000 in fundraising from 21,500 donors in the first two weeks in June.
The story of Biaggi and Engel goes deeper than Bowman sharing Biaggi’s progressive ideology. Engel defeated Biaggi’s father Mario Biaggi for renomination to his congressional seat in 1988 after the latter was indicted for bribery and conspiracy.
What To Watch For
New York will host several competitive House races in its June 23 primary. In the 9th district in Brooklyn, Yvette Clarke faces a heated primary challenge from progressive activist Adam Bunkeddeko, who came within 3 points of unseating her in 2018. In the 17th district, which covers much of the New York City suburbs, long-time incumbent Nita Lowey’s retirement spawned a fiercely competitive 7-way primary. The top candidates include attorney Mondaire Jones, former Obama administration Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas, State Assemblyman David Buchwald and State Senator David Carlucci. The 15th district in the Bronx also features an open primary, but the top two candidates are New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who, along with Bunkeddeko and Jones, was endorsed by the New York Times, and the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a conservative Democrat who opposes abortion and gay marriage.