Veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley’s (D-N.Y.) stunning defeat on Tuesday night rocked the political world, as progressive candidates stormed to victory in primaries held across the country.
Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus who was seen as a potential future Speaker, lost in a massive upset to progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old organizer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.
Other liberal candidates won primary challenges in top House and gubernatorial races. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who was endorsed by Sanders, won the Democratic primary in Maryland’s governor race. And activist Dana Balter won her House primary in upstate New York.
Those victories illustrate that voters have an appetite to buck the political establishment as progressives seek to move the Democratic Party farther to the left.
Meanwhile, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE solidified his political clout, with wins from two incumbent lawmakers he backed: Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R).
Here are the most significant takeaways from Tuesday’s primary contests.
With Crowley, Dems have their Cantor moment
Crowley’s surprise loss on Tuesday is the biggest prize the reform-minded Democrats who backed Sanders have claimed so far.
Crowley’s loss is as stunning as then-House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorTrump taps pollster to push back on surveys showing Biden with double-digit lead Bottom Line The Democrats’ strategy conundrum: a ‘movement’ or a coalition? MORE’s (R-Va.) primary defeat in 2014 — maybe more so, because while Cantor spent his fateful primary hobnobbing in Washington, Crowley had taken his challenge more seriously, actively campaigning for his own seat in a borough where he still runs the Democratic machine.
But the result was the same: A member of Congress once poised for the Speakership is now out of a job.
Scheduling primary elections for federal contests separately from those for statewide office was supposed to mean a low-turnout affair that party bosses could control. It turned into a perfect opportunity for Sanders backers to score their biggest goal of the year — so far.
Crowley, 56, faced his first primary challenge in 14 years. He was seen as a potential successor to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE (D-Calif.). And he had longtime roots in his deep-blue New York City district that include parts of Queens and the Bronx. He’s also chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party.
But Ocasio-Cortez’s victory shows that voters were itching for change in one of the most diverse districts in the country. Hispanics make up half of the 14th District’s population.
Ocasio-Cortez ran on the need for new representation, criticizing Crowley for living outside the district and for taking corporate donations.
The 28-year-old challenger gained some last-minute traction, especially after a viral campaign video in which she said the race was about “people versus money.” She garnered a number of progressive endorsements, including from Our Revolution, MoveOn.org and Justice Democrats.
Progressive Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaProgressive Caucus co-chair endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary Biden’s right, we need policing reform now – the House should quickly take up his call to action The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Association of American Railroads Ian Jefferies says no place for hate, racism or bigotry in rail industry or society; Trump declares victory in response to promising jobs report MORE (D-Calif.), who won his own primary challenge against an incumbent in 2016, issued a dual endorsement. He initially backed only Crowley, but walked it back after pressure from progressive circles on social media.
Progressives have a big night — not just in New York
Progressives — and Sanders allies — are taking victory laps in several other high-profile races in Tuesday’s multi-state primaries.
In Maryland’s Democratic primary for governor, Jealous — a first-time candidate — defeated Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker for the right to take on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in November.
Jealous touted his endorsements from national figures in the progressive movement, like Sanders and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.). Meanwhile, Baker had solidified support from local Democratic leaders like Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for ‘glorifying violence’ | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues MORE, House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Hoyer: House will vote soon on bill to improve ObamaCare Hoyer: Infrastructure package to hit floor this month MORE and former Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Sanders, who’s made few endorsements and campaign appearances this cycle, stumped alongside Jealous prior to the primary. Jealous backs many of Sanders’s core issues including “Medicare for all” legislation and a $15 minimum wage.
“Ben showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice,” Sanders said in a Tuesday night statement.
But Jealous will face a tough general election race against Hogan, who’s highly popular and has strong job approval ratings.
In New York’s 24th District, Balter cruised to victory in a race where local and national Democrats clashed over their preferred candidates to take on GOP Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoBipartisan group demands House prioritize communities of color in coronavirus relief bill Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support States plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges MORE in a top swing seat.
Balter, a professor at Syracuse University and progressive activist, consolidated support from four local Democratic county committees. Balter was also backed by Our Revolution.
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But weeks out from the filing deadline, national Democrats made a last-minute recruitment that irked local activists. They encourage former U.S. Navy officer and prosecutor Juanita Perez Williams to jump into the race.
National Democrats have waded into a number of high-profile primaries where they worked to get a candidate through that they believe would be stronger in the general election.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) added Perez Williams to its program that provides financial and organizational support to candidates.
While Balter and Perez Williams didn’t differ on many issues, local Democratic leaders accused the DCCC of meddling in its primary.
But national Democrats did get their preferred pick through a primary in a top race in Colorado. Army veteran Jason Crow defeated Levi Tillemann, who worked in the Department of Energy during the Obama administration.
LGBT candidates continue to shine
In 2004, the first governor in American history to tell his constituents he was gay did so in a speech announcing his resignation, using carefully poll-tested language.
A decade and a half later, LGBT candidates have made enormous strides. On Tuesday, Rep. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisState leaders urge protesters to get tested for coronavirus amid fears of new outbreaks The Hill’s Morning Report – Protesters’ defiance met with calls to listen Overnight Health Care: White House shifts focus from coronavirus | House Democrats seek information on coronavirus vaccine contracts | Governors detail frustrations with Trump over COVID-19 supplies MORE (D) won the Democratic nomination for governor of Colorado, becoming the third member of the LGBT community to win a gubernatorial nomination so far this year.
Polis joins Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), the first bisexual person to serve as governor, and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez (D), who faces an uphill battle against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in November.
Their wins do not mean LGBT members are equally represented in government by any means — only seven members of Congress are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and only one transgender woman has ever won election to a state legislature.
But it is a sign that — especially in a state like Colorado, where progressive Democrats compete with libertarian-minded Republicans — being gay is no longer a deal-breaker for voters.
In fact Polis’s biggest hurdle come November won’t be the fact that he is gay — it will be convincing voters to back his unabashedly progressive agenda. Polis supports “Medicare for all,” universal pre-K and slowly transitioning Colorado — a state with plenty of oil and gas business — to all-renewable energy.
But Polis will have plenty of opportunity to pitch himself to voters: Before his public service career, he built a massive fortune by running several internet startups. He has already spent $10 million of that fortune on his race for governor.
Trump flexes his muscles in primaries
Progressives weren’t the only ones who had a banner night. Trump also won big by helping to shepherd McMaster and Donovan through their respective primaries.
In one of the most bitter primary battles of the cycle, Donovan trounced former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm in the Staten Island primary. Grimm was looking to make a political comeback after serving an eight-month prison sentence for tax fraud.
Trump took center stage in New York’s 11th District primary, where the two Republicans battled over their loyalty to the president. Grimm sought to fashion himself as a fierce ally of the president, arguing that Donovan doesn’t support Trump since he voted against the GOP’s tax overhaul.
But Donovan earned a critical endorsement from Trump, who warned that backing Grimm could lead to another Alabama, where Republicans last year ceded a winnable race to Democrats. And in the final days of the race, Donovan got reinforcements from the White House, including Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpTrump Jr. calls elderly supporter who was assaulted Trump Jr. hits Howard Stern for going ‘establishment,’ ‘acting like Hillary’ Trump Jr., GOP senator lash out at Facebook for taking down protest pages on stay-at-home orders MORE and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who’s now Trump’s personal lawyer.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, McMaster also won his GOP primary runoff against businessman John Warren. McMaster faced three well-funded challengers in a primary earlier this month but failed to avert a runoff, which triggered Tuesday’s race.
Trump made a last-minute swing through South Carolina on the eve of Tuesday’s primary on behalf of McMaster, who was the first statewide official to back Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary.
Trump has had mixed results when it comes to endorsements this year.
The president has been able to take down Republicans who don’t show unequivocal loyalty. He railed against Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordThe Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? Libertarians view Amash as potential 2020 game changer for party Trump becomes presumptive GOP nominee after sweeping primaries MORE (R-S.C.), an outspoken critic of the president who lost in a primary earlier this month.
And several lawmakers who have voiced opposition to Trump — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism Kelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism Trump asserts his power over Republicans Romney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force MORE (R-Tenn.) — have decided to retire.
But some candidates who earned Trump’s backing still couldn’t convince his voters to get behind them.
In Alabama, Trump got behind Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe biggest political upsets of the decade State ‘certificate of need’ laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (R), who lost a primary runoff to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreSessions goes after Tuberville’s coaching record in challenging him to debate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Sessions fires back at Trump over recusal: ‘I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did” MORE. The president went on to endorse Moore in the general election, but Moore fell short to now-Sen. Doug Jones in a big political upset for Democrats.
And in Pennsylvania’s high-profile special election in March, Republican Rick Saccone lost in a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016, despite the president holding a rally.