Jamaal Bowman’s loss has left progressives in shock and without a plan

Jamaal Bowman’s loss has left progressives in shock and without a plan

Representative Jamaal Bowman’s primary loss to George Latimer on Tuesday left members of the Squad and their allies in the House of Representatives reeling on Wednesday.

Latimer, a Westchester County executive, crushed Bowman after pro-Israel groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, bombarded the airwaves with ads and spent more than $14 million to unseat the incumbent. The race wound up becoming the most expensive congressional primary in history.

“Big money just piled on and was successful in their efforts,” Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia told The Independent. “We've got to get money out of politics.”

And it looks like AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups will copy their successful strategy against Bowman against fellow Squad member Representative Cori Bush. Like with Bowman, the groups’ ads in that race have not focused on Bush’s support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to end the war in Gaza after the October 7 attack. Rather, they have hit her for voting against the bipartisan infrastructure bill in 2021 and opposing the bipartisan debt limit agreement that President Joe Biden brokered.

Now, progressives seem to have few short-term strategies to protect one of their own.

“We gotta keep building the grassroots base, and we're gonna keep making the case that we need an overturning of Citizens United,” Representative Ro Khanna of California told The Independent, referring to the Supreme Court case in 2010 that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money and super PACs in the United States.

“That type of spending and politics in general, but particularly in our democratic processes, is toxic, and it is something that we have to help our entire Democratic caucus and party understand is bad for all of us,” Representative Summer Lee of Pennsylvania told me.

In April, Lee faced an onslaught of outside money backing a moderate primary challenger. But unlike in 2022, when UDP spent to take her out in an open race, the super PAC did not spend against her in the primary.

Lee specifically pointed to the fact that most of the ads paid for by pro-Israel groups did not focus on Israel.

“The reality is that what we saw last night, and what we've seen in my race before, when I ran back in 2022,” is that the groups are not upfront about all the reasons they might be putting money against a candidate, Lee said, adding, “We have to fight back against disinformation. We have to fight back against untruth.”

Representative Greg Casar, the whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said voters needed to be more aware of money in US politics and how it’s being spent.

“I do think that the American people need to know and Democratic voters need to become aware that we are now dealing with unprecedented spending in our primaries,” he told The Independent. “It's going to be so important for Democratic primary voters across the country to be aware that now there's unprecedented money being spent to smear progressives, and that they should be much more skeptical of what it is they're constantly seeing on their Hulu or their social media stream or on broadcast.”

Bowman faced a barrage of heavy advertisements largely based on his votes outside of Israel but also for his inflammatory rhetoric and his antics such as pulling the fire alarm during House votes. There are certainly reasons why moderates might have wanted to unseat him that are separate from his position on Israel and Gaza.

Similarly, Bush is uniquely vulnerable given the fact she is under federal investigation by the Department of Justice.

Bush has also faced criticism for her support for defunding the police. Indeed, UDP’s ads have highlighted Bell’s record as a county prosecutor in the Ferguson, Missouri area supporting police reform, rather than bringing up his rhetoric on Israel.

Delia Ramirez of Illinois, another member of the Squad who won her race in 2022, said Bowman’s loss should be a rallying cry for those on the left wing.

“Progressives should be fighting like hell to raise money for [Cori Bush] in Congress, figuring out how do we get big money out of politics? [Otherwise] you're not going to have competent, qualified people here,” she told The Independent.