AOC win, fellow insurgent's lead in U.S. Congress races point to Democratic progressive gains

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A resounding win by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a fellow liberal’s lead over a longtime New York congressman signaled fresh momentum for progressive politics amid growing calls for economic and racial justice in the United States.

Tuesday’s nominating contests in New York, Kentucky and several other states pitted establishment Democrats against challengers pushing for sweeping change after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.

Early election results showed Black and other minority candidates putting up strong performances in several key contests.

“It may be that the recent focus on Black Lives Matter and racial inequities in policing opened Democratic voters’ eyes even more to Black candidates,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia.

Jamaal Bowman, a Black middle school principal backed by Ocasio-Cortez and other leading progressives, looked poised to defeat U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House of Representatives foreign relations committee who has been in Congress more than three decades, with about 60% of the vote to 34%.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to win the seat encompassing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County in November.

“I’m a Black man raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress,” Bowman tweeted on Wednesday as he declared victory. “But today, that 11-year-old boy beaten by police is about to be your Representative. I can’t wait to get to DC and cause problems for those maintaining the status quo.”

In a neighboring district, Ocasio-Cortez secured about 70% of the vote reported on Tuesday against centrist challenger Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who got less than 20%, New York state election results showed.

“We are proving that the people’s movement in NY isn’t an accident,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “It’s a mandate.”

New York officials said results from Tuesday’s voting did not include absentee ballots, which were requested in record numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those ballots will not be counted until at least a week after the election, delaying final results.

Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were also outstanding in Kentucky, where Black progressive state legislator Charles Booker was locked in a battle with former fighter pilot Amy McGrath to become the Democratic candidate to face Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Nov. 3.

Like Engel, McGrath, a prolific fundraiser, was backed by the Democratic Party establishment. With 54% of precincts reporting, she had 44.7% of the vote to 36.5% for Booker, according to the Associated Press.

Final results will not be known until June 30, Kentucky officials said.

Another Black candidate, physician Cameron Webb, beat three white opponents in the primary for a U.S. House seat representing central Virginia that Democrats hope to snatch from Republicans.

Also in New York, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney was slightly ahead of liberal challenger Suraj Patel. And Black candidate Mondaire Jones, 33, was leading in a crowded race to replace retiring Representative Nita Lowey.

Meanwhile, there were hints President Donald Trump’s iron grip on the Republican Party may be eroding. His endorsed candidate, Lynda Bennett, lost to Madison Cawthorn in a Republican congressional primary in North Carolina, while a maverick Republican Trump had harshly criticized, Representative Thomas Massie, claimed victory in his Kentucky race.

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