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It took nearly a month, but a progressive insurgent challenger has toppled longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s Democratic primary, ousting the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee in a major upset.
The Associated Press called the race for Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal and first-time candidate, on Friday, more than three weeks after the June 23 primary election.
Riding a wave of support from the biggest names on the left – including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — Bowman defeated Engel by a rougly 15-point margin in the primary in New York’s 16th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of the New York City borough of the Bronx and portions of neighboring southern Westchester County.
Many votes in the primary were cast by mail, and some have still yet to be counted.
But an AP analysis of absentee ballots that had been counted so far indicated Friday that Bowman’s lead is too far from Engel to overcome.
After AP made the call, Bowman tweeted “I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress. But today, that 11-year old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next Representative.”
Bowman’s victory is being compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s blockbuster 2018 upset primary victory over longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, which created political shockwaves.
Engel, who’s served in Congress for over three decades, has a national profile as the leader of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
But the incumbent came under attack the past couple of months for spending more time at his home in Potomac, Md., than at his apartment in the Bronx. And recently he was put on the defensive after he was captured on a live microphone suggesting that “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care” about speaking at an event in his congressional district.
Bowman, who is Black, started surging past Engel, who is White, during late May and early June amid nationwide protests over police brutality toward minorities and systemic racism sparked by the death of George Floyd.
As he fought for re-election, Engel landed endorsements from prominent establishment figures, including the former senator from New York and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, some top House Democrats, and the political wing of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Engel’s one of the original sponsors of the House Democrats’ sweeping police reform bill, which passed late last month. He’s also been a leader in the push by House Democrats to hold the Trump administration accountable and played a role in this year’s impeachment efforts over the president’s dealings with Ukraine.