On Tuesday, several states — including New York and Kentucky — held hotly contested, headline-making primary elections. While the primary for the Democratic presidential nomination has already been decided, with Joe Biden the presumed nominee, there were still important Congressional primaries that promised to inject some much needed excitement in the electoral process. This excitement came courtesy of a number of progressive candidates — from New York's Jamaal Bowman to Kentucky's Charles Booker — who were running on leftist platforms that addressed issues like police reform, health care, and climate change.
It was only two years ago that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory rocked the Democratic establishment, and that win is still seen as having paved the way for more progressive candidates to launch successful bids to try to shake things up both in Washington, and within state governments.
Now, as national uprisings seek to dismantle entrenched political hierarchies in favor of elevating new voices and protecting Black and POC communities, unexpected electoral results are taking on new meaning. Ahead, we've rounded up the progressive primary winners, losers, and those that are still too close to call.
Yuh-Line Niou won the primary in her re-election campaign in New York’s 65th Assembly District, which encompasses the Financial District and Chinatown. She defeated Grace Lee, a first-time candidate backed by Wall Street financiers, who began her campaign by filing $154,000 in donations for the assembly seat — the most funds ever raised by a first-time state assembly candidate in their first filing. Niou ran on a platform of ensuring a comprehensive "New New Deal" that addressed the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, proposed a bolstered social safety net, targeted high rates of unemployment and homelessness, and provided assistance to vulnerable tenants and small businesses.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez notched a decisive victory in her first re-election bid following her shocking victory two years ago in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. She defeated her Wall Street-backed challenger, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former Republican and former CNBC correspondent, and garnered nearly 73 percent of the vote.
Mondaire Jones won his primary decisively in New York’s 17th Congressional District, beating State Senator David Carlucci, State Assemblyman David Buchwald, former Department of Defense official Evelyn Farkas, and former federal prosecutor Adam Schleifer, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. The victory makes Jones, along with Ritchie Torres, the first Black, gay representative in Congressional history. Jones is a graduate of Harvard Law, and worked in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration. His overwhelmingly Democratic district is located in the Hudson Valley.
Jamaal Bowman defeated incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th Congressional District race. Bowman is a middle-school principal in the Bronx who ran a campaign bolstered by a groundswell of grassroots support that has landed a decisive victory — Bowman received over 60 percent of the vote — against Engel’s campaign, which received major endorsements from the Democratic Establishment, including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, which funded anti-Black smear ads against Bowman.
Ritchie Torres won his primary for New York’s 15th Congressional District, which covers part of the Bronx, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jose Serrano. The victory makes him, along with Mondaire Jones, the first Black, gay representative in Congressional history. It is especially notable because Torres beat Rubén Diaz, Sr., a social conservative who has compared gay sex to bestiality. He also beat Assemblyman Michael Blake, who received a slew of high-profile endorsements from Black leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).
Jabari Brisport won in his primary in the bid for a New York State Senate seat in District 25, in Brooklyn. He is a third-generation Caribbean American from Prospect Heights, and a member of the Democratic Socialists for America. He ran against Democrats Tremaine Wright and Jason Salmon for the vacant seat, with Wright having received the backing of most of the Democratic Establishment. However, Brisport was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Paperboy Prince lost their primary in a bid to become the first openly nonbinary member of Congress. The rapper and activist was defeated by Rep. Nydia Velázquez in NY-7, covering Sunset Park, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick and many other parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Velázquez is on her way to securing a 15th term in Congress. Prince ran on a campaign supporting Universal Basic Income.
Lindsey Boylan was seeking to unseat Rep. Jerry Nadler in New York’s 10th Congressional District, which covers the west side of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. Boylan has served as the Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, a special advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and as chief of staff and executive vice president at Empire State Development. Nadler received over 60 percent of the vote, and had also been endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Mel Gagarin, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, was attempting to unseat Rep. Grace Meng in New York’s 6th Congressional District, which covers parts of Queens. He previously worked as a congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and as a communications liaison for state Sen. Jose Serrano Jr. Meng received over 60 percent of the vote, while Gagarin received 21.6 percent.
Too Close To Call
Charles Booker, a state legislator, is running against Amy McGrath in the Democratic primary for a Senate seat in Kentucky. McGrath was endorsed by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) while Booker’s campaign has been bolstered by the ongoing protests in the wake of the Louisville police killing of Breonna Taylor. Currently, McGrath has the lead with 44 percent of the vote, compared with Booker’s 37.6 percent. However, the race will not be called until after June 30, when the large number of absentee ballots will be counted.
Suraj Patel is attempting to defeat longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney for the second time, after losing a primary bid against her in New York’s 12th Congressional District in 2018. As of Tuesday night, Maloney had just over 41 percent of the votes while Patel had 40 percent, with tens of thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted. Maloney is supported by the Democratic establishment, while Patel, a first-generation Indian-American who worked for the Obama administration, has pledged to take no corporate PAC money.
Zohran Mamdani is leading the race for New York’s 36th District in the Assembly, which includes Astoria, Queens, against incumbent Aravella Simotas. Mamdani is a housing counselor, Indian-Ugandan New Yorker, and member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He currently has about 54 percent of the vote, but the absentee ballots could sway the district; those votes will be counted after June 30.