Jamaal Bowman’s Election Loss: 5 Takeaways

Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York became the first member of the House’s progressive “squad” to lose a seat in Congress on Tuesday, dealing a stinging defeat to the Democratic left after a brutal intraparty fight.

The contest on the outskirts of New York City centered on Democrats’ disagreements over Israel’s war in Gaza. Progressive groups raced to try to save Mr. Bowman, a leading voice against the war. Pro-Israel political groups pumped record-shattering sums into defeating him.

But by the end, it devolved into a broader spat over race and class that tested the Democratic coalition. Mr. Bowman’s opponent, the Westchester County executive, George Latimer, also benefited from old-fashioned local alliances and a series of embarrassing missteps by the incumbent.

Here are five takeaways from the results.

After the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks, political groups aligned with Israel issued a message to its critics like Mr. Bowman: Moderate your views or prepare for stiff political opposition.

Tuesday’s result showed that was no idle threat.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Democratic Majority for Israel and other affiliated organizations ultimately spent more than $16 million to defeat Mr. Bowman, more than any outside group has ever put into a House race.

Critics of the war and supporters of Israel now believe the show of force has not only helped take out a powerful pro-Palestinian voice in Congress, but could have a chilling effect on other critics of Israel at a crucial point in the war.

“The outcome in this race once again shows that the pro-Israel position is both good policy and good politics — for both parties,” said Marshall Wittmann, an AIPAC spokesman, who called Mr. Bowman’s statements a “vituperative barrage of scurrilous attacks against the pro-Israel community.”

But it is less clear that the approach is advancing AIPAC’s broader goal of reinforcing support for Israel among Democrats writ large. Few of the ads that the group paid for in New York mentioned Israel. And AIPAC’s attacks have galvanized a concerted countercampaign by the left to try to discredit the group, which is bipartisan, among Democratic voters.

Left-leaning groups like Justice Democrats, who once played the role of conquering insurgents, found themselves running a desperate rescue operation in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. They depleted bank accounts and redirected staff to the race full-time.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York declared the race her most urgent electoral priority and rallied with Mr. Bowman and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Saturday. She followed up on Monday, appearing in Mount Vernon with Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts for a rally and to door-knock voters.

Ultimately, they could not compete with the other side’s vast resources.

But Mr. Bowman also lost traction with the type of liberal voters who delivered progressives’ wins in 2018 and 2020. Many past supporters who abandoned him for Mr. Latimer said they came to see their congressman as too extreme to help solve the nation’s problems.

Mr. Bowman may not be the last member of the House’s influential left-wing “squad” to lose his seat — even this year. AIPAC and other groups have now turned their attention to defeating Representative Cori Bush of Missouri in an August primary.

For decades, Democrats in New York and across the country have succeeded when they hold together a coalition of Black, Latino and Jewish voters, young people and the ideologically liberal of all stripes.

The race between Mr. Bowman and Mr. Latimer showed how badly that coalition has cracked — by race, class and age — and just how much work President Biden will need to do ahead of November.

It may take weeks to fully analyze Tuesday’s results, but early returns indicated that Mr. Bowman performed best in areas home to large Black, Latino and progressive white populations. Mr. Latimer ran up large margins in more moderate suburban communities, including ones with sizable Jewish populations.

Both candidates stoked the divisions.

Mr. Bowman, who is Black, openly campaigned as the candidate of the working class, progressives and people of color. He called Mr. Latimer, who is white, a candidate for the wealthy suburban class. And he alienated many Jewish voters with harsh criticism of Israel and comments like one suggesting “the Jews” in his district had intentionally chosen to live apart from other people.

Mr. Latimer, in turn, portrayed the incumbent as a sideshow, preoccupied with making his name and playing an “ethnic game.” He repeatedly made racially coded comments that fed Mr. Bowman’s case, including by suggesting that the congressman did not care about voters “who are not Black or brown.”

Mr. Bowman’s campaign had no shortage of national star power. In the last week alone, he appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” rapped with Cash Cobain and rallied with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Sanders.

But on the ground, Mr. Latimer, 70, was the one with renown. A local leader who first took office in the Reagan era, he had racked up friendships, favors and familiarity through decades of retail politics at the local, state and county levels, overseeing a huge county budget and showing up at senior bingo hours.

Some local officials said Mr. Bowman, a former middle-school principal, was comparatively hard to find.

“I could see Latimer maybe five times a week,” said Paul Feiner, the longtime town supervisor of Greenburgh. “I’ve only seen Bowman maybe three or four times since hes been a congressmember.”

Marsha Gordon, the head of Westchester’s main business council, described a similar experience. She said she invited Mr. Bowman to come speak shortly after he was elected and then never heard from him again, even though her group represents some of the region’s largest employers, hospitals and colleges.

“That says a lot about where his priorities are,” Ms. Gordon said. “Jamaal Bowman has just not been engaged.”

Once the race grew turbulent, Mr. Bowman, 48, struggled to find fellow elected Democrats willing to vouch for him in the face of withering attacks.

Mr. Latimer won the endorsement of every local Democratic Party committee in the district that took sides, including the one representing Mr. Bowman’s hometown, Yonkers. And prominent Black officials helped him get past charges of race baiting.

Mr. Bowman’s opponents churned out an unusually large amount of opposition research against him, including old blog posts dabbling in Sept. 11 conspiracy theories.

But the blunder that may have cost Mr. Bowman most took place right in the open.

Last fall, Mr. Bowman pulled a false fire alarm in a House office building, sending the Capitol into chaos on national television as Congress raced to avert a government shutdown. Mr. Bowman claimed he thought the device would open a locked door, but video of the incident suggested otherwise and he later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and apologized.

Mr. Latimer returned to the episode repeatedly to argue that Mr. Bowman was more interested in social media stardom than serious work. In interviews, several voters brought it up without prompting to explain why they had lost faith in Mr. Bowman.

“He’s making the party look really bad,” said Sandra Altman, citing Mr. Bowman’s fire alarm episode and his left-leaning views, as she voted for Mr. Latimer in Scarsdale. “He’s on the fringe doing all kinds of stuff.”

Molly Longman contributed reporting from Scarsdale, N.Y.

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