Progressives are mounting efforts to best establishment Democrats in Kentucky and New York Tuesday.
Black Lives Matter protests around the country have added energy to the left, and Black progressives are surging in contests in both states.
In Kentucky, the race between the two leading Democrats vying for the right to likely take on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is coming down to the wire. All the momentum is on the side of state Rep. Charles Booker over Amy McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot with a lot of money and the party's backing.
In New York, a former principal from the Bronx is taking aim at a 30-year-incumbent, Rep. Eliot Engel. Engel hasn't faced a competitive primary in 20 years, and the pressure is showing.
In all Tuesday, voters in five states head to the polls, including North Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi, in addition to Kentucky and New York.
Here's a look at some of the notable races to watch:
Senate (Democratic) — McGrath vs. Booker
The death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville has changed the trajectory of this race. Booker has all the momentum after attending and taking a leadership role at protests over her death. He's become something of a progressive cause célèbre, as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes have all endorsed Booker. And a poll out Thursday showed Booker ahead of McGrath. It's a stunning turn of events, because McGrath has brought in almost $41 million — more than McConnell has raised.
McGrath also has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. McGrath burst on the scene in 2018 with an ad for a House seat that highlighted her career as a fighter pilot. But her loss during that Democratic wave year took some of the shine off, and Democrats privately criticized the campaign she ran. And Booker is out with a powerful new video that encapsulates a lot of the economic and political messages Democrats are pushing nationally. Either Booker or McGrath would start in a hole against McConnell, as polls show both down double-digits against him.
4th Congressional District (Republican) — Massie vs. McMurtry
Is the race between incumbent Rep. Thomas Massie and lawyer Todd McMurtry is coming down to... who's more racist?
McMurtry, who is a lawyer for one of the students from Covington Catholic High School that had a standoff with an Indigenous activist, landed in hot water after racist tweets of his surfaced. McMurtry then accused Massie of displaying the Confederate battle flag at his home.
Things get more complicated and tie in GOP leadership. Massie upset President Trump and Republican leadership by forcing members back to Washington to vote on a coronavirus relief bill. As a result, House No. 3 Liz Cheney and others donated to McMurtry. But that was before the tweets came out. When that happened, Cheney and other Republicans demanded their money back, which drew ridicule from Massie.
16th Congressional District (Democratic) — Engel vs. Bowman
New York is the site of several key Democratic primary races Tuesday, as many longtime politicians — including Reps. Jerry Nadler, Yvette Clarke and Carolyn Maloney — face a wave of more progressive challengers.
Engel, who has held his congressional seat since 1988, faces perhaps the toughest race, against former middle school principal and education advocate Jamaal Bowman. While Engel has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Bowman has gained increased support from progressive leaders, like Sanders, Warren and New York's Ocasio-Cortez, who in 2018 herself defeated a longtime Democratic incumbent close to party leadership. In a poll released last week by the left-leaning group Data for Progress, Bowman led Engel by 10 points.
Additional New York races to watch (full results here):
- NY-14 — Ocasio-Cortez faces her first reelection primary since unseating Joe Crowley in 2018. Former CNBC correspondent Michelle Caruso-Cabrera stands as Ocasio-Cortez's most significant challenger, though Ocasio-Cortez maintains a large fundraising lead.
- NY-15 — A dozen Democratic candidates are hoping to fill retiring Congressman José Serrano's seat. One of the leading candidates is New York City Councilor and Rev. Rubén Díaz Sr., a controversial Democrat who is openly against abortion and gay marriage.
- NY-2 — Retiring Republican Congressman Peter King's seat is also up for grabs, prompting competitive Republican and Democratic primaries.
- NY-22 — Former Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney is hoping for a rematch against Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi to win her old seat back. But first, she has to win Tuesday's GOP primary. Tenney lost her seat to Brindisi in 2018 and has been endorsed by Trump.
- NY-27 — Another Trump-backed candidate, Chris Jacobs, is running in Tuesday's special election following the resignation of former Congressman Chris Collins over fraud charges.
11th Congressional District (Republican) — Bennett vs. Cawthorn
This GOP primary runoff is to fill the seat of former Rep. Mark Meadows, who resigned in March to be Trump's chief of staff. The two candidates running are real estate agent Lynda Bennett and real estate investor Madison Cawthorn.
Bennett has been endorsed by Trump, Meadows and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, but some Republican voters in the 11th district have expressed doubt and skepticism over controversial campaign choices. The GOP winner will go on to face Democratic nominee Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel and former prosecutor.
2nd Congressional District (Republican) — Luria vs. Taylor... Round 2?
Former Rep. Scott Taylor is vying for a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, who defeated Taylor in 2018 by just over 2 percentage points.
Taylor, who had only served one term, faced an election fraud scandal during his reelection campaign after a staffer forged signatures to try to get a third-party candidate on the ballot. Two years later, Taylor says Luria's decision to support Trump's impeachment was "the last straw" in prompting him to run. Taylor is the only candidate with prior political experience running for the GOP nomination, and he leads the primary field in fundraising.
2nd Congressional District (Republican) — Carey vs. Flowers
In a runoff election, Republicans Thomas Carey and Brian Flowers will compete for the GOP nomination in this heavily Democratic district. The winner will go on to face Democrat Bennie Thompson, who has held the seat for 27 years. Hillary Clinton won this majority African American district by almost 30 points.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Several states hold primaries today, and in two of the most notable races, Black Democrats who are new to the political scene are mounting progressive challenges against white candidates who are backed by the party establishment. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us this morning. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: First up, who's voting today?
MONTANARO: You've got people in five states voting in primaries today in the South - Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi - and also in New York in the Northeast. And the big races people are watching are in Kentucky and New York, where we have those two races that you mentioned.
MARTIN: All right, so let's dig into those. Let's start in Kentucky, where Democrats clearly trying to unseat Mitch McConnell. What's happening there?
MONTANARO: Yeah. You have the Democratic primary for the Senate, and the winner, like you mentioned, would take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It's been a wild race between State Representative Charles Booker and Amy McGrath, who is a former fighter pilot. We've really seen a change in trajectory in this race since the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Taylor is the Black woman who was shot and killed by police after they used a no-knock warrant to get into her apartment.
Before Taylor's death, McGrath was the overwhelming front-runner. I mean, she'd taken in $41 million and had the backing of the Democratic Party establishment. That's all changed. Booker, who is black, has taken a real leadership role in speaking out after her death. He's taken part in Black Lives Matter protests, and he has had all the momentum now, with at least one poll showing him ahead. High-profile progressives have come out for him - Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren. He's got a new video out, Booker, that really encapsulates a lot of messages nationally that Democrats have been trying to push about working-class economics, protests and Black Lives Matter. Here's a bit from that.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
CHARLES BOOKER: Finally, the power of the people is beginning to show. We've seen who keeps society running.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No justice, no peace.
BOOKER: It's the Black janitors, the brown cashiers, the white folks stocking the shelves. The essential people are rising up.
MONTANARO: Now, look; while this primary's going to be interesting, it's going to get lots of attention because of who they're going to face off with, this is Kentucky in a presidential year. President Trump won it by 30 points in 2016, so whoever wins is going to be an underdog against McConnell for sure.
MARTIN: And there's a similar dynamic shaping up in the New York Democratic race, right? Explain.
MONTANARO: Yeah. That's right. There's a challenge to longtime Congressman Eliot Engel, who's the House Foreign Affairs chairman. He represents the Bronx and Southern Westchester County. He's been in Congress for more than 30 years, but he's got his hands full with Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal from the Bronx. He's also got the endorsement of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. This race really changed after Engel had a hot mic moment that was caught on tape by News 12. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELIOT ENGEL: If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Say that again.
ENGEL: If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care.
MONTANARO: So you hear him there saying that if he didn't have a primary, he wouldn't necessarily care about speaking at this event. And, you know, if it weren't for that, he - you might not see this kind of surge that's taken place. But he's taken a lot of heat for that. Bowman raised $2 million since that and now is ahead in the polls.
MARTIN: OK. Just quickly, Domenico, any other races to keep an eye on?
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, look; Ocasio-Cortez, by the way, finds herself as - with a primary challenge for the first time after unseating a Democratic incumbent, and there are two Republican ex-Congresspeople who are trying to make comebacks in seats that could be competitive this fall.
MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.