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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Adam Gabbatt in New York

Progressive ‘Squad’ member Jamaal Bowman loses New York House primary

Man in suit and shirt and tie
Jamaal Bowman in Washington. Photograph: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Jamaal Bowman, the progressive Democratic congressman whose criticism of Israel’s war on Gaza made him a target for pro-Israel lobbying groups, lost his primary race on Tuesday night.

The Democratic primary in New York’s 16th district became the most expensive House primary in history after Bowman was challenged by George Latimer, a pro-Israel centrist.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and an affiliated group spent almost $15m to defeat Bowman, a former middle school principal, who has been one of the few Democrats to consistently criticize Israel since it began a military campaign on Gaza that has killed a reported 37,000 Palestinians.

Latimer, a vocal advocate of Israel who has been involved in local politics for more than three decades, is likely to win the congressional election in November, given the heavily Democratic makeup of the district.

Our Revolution said the primary outcome “puts the glaring hypocrisy of Democratic party elites on full display”. Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of the organization founded by Bernie Sanders, said: “Hillary Clinton and other establishment Democrats who supported Bowman’s challenger like to parade around as champions of democracy … [but] lack the backbone to call out the broken system that allows Democratic primaries to be sold to the highest bidder.”

Bowman had appeared with Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally on Sunday, as progressive Democrats launched a last-ditch attempt to drive people to the polls.

“Are you ready to fight? Are you ready to take this borough back? Are you ready to win this country back? Are you ready to fight for peace on earth and ceasefire in Gaza?” Ocasio-Cortez said as she introduced Bowman, hinting at what has become the key issue in the race between him and Latimer.

Bowman has accused Israel of committing genocide and has called for the Biden White House to “stop all funding” to Israel.

That prompted Aipac to wade into the race: since the start of the primary, the United Democracy Project, a Super Pac connected with Aipac, has spent almost $15m to defeat Bowman, who is facing a primary challenge from Latimer, a pro-Israel Democrat. DMFI Pac, another pro-Israel group, has spent more than $1m to support Latimer and unseat Bowman, helping to turn the race into an unprecedentedly expensive contest.

While the Israel issue has been a driver for Aipac, Bowman was also seen as vulnerable due to issues within his control. In September, he was criticized after pulling a fire alarm before a crucial House vote; Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, the maximum applicable under Washington DC law. Early this year, the Daily Beast reported that Bowman had touted 9/11 conspiracy theories on a since-deleted blogpost.

In New York City, TV ads attacking Bowman have been ever-present in recent weeks, although Bowman raised plenty of cash of his own. Since the start of his campaign, Bowman raised $4.3m and had support on the ground from progressive groups, including Justice Democrats, a progressive organization that backed his campaign in 2020 and spent $1.3m to support Bowman this election cycle.

The race became contentious in recent weeks. Bowman suggested Latimer’s campaign darkened his skin in campaign literature and accused Latimer of pushing the “angry Black man” stereotype.

In the final debate between the pair on Tuesday, Bowman accused Latimer of dragging his feet on desegregation as Westchester county executive. Latimer, who has claimed Bowman has an “ethnic benefit”, said Bowman had “cornered the market on lies”.

With Bowman being a high-profile progressive who is popular with young people and the left, the race took on wider implications.

“We believe that the Squad [a group of progressive politicians who include Ocasio-Cortez] is just the start of our voice being truly represented in the halls of Congress,” said Ella Weber, an activist with Protect Our Power, an organization that seeks to keep progressive Democrats in Congress and that spent time campaigning in Bowman’s district.

“The threat of them not winning is gen Z as a whole continues to lose faith in our political process. That’s definitely not what we want, and I don’t think that’s what the Democratic party wants.”

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