Moderate Democrats take victory lap after ousting NY Rep. Jamaal Bowman amid fight to flip House

NEW YORK — Moderate Democrats were taking a victory lap Wednesday after ousting progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman and plotting more efforts to move the party toward the middle in a bid to retake Congress and reelect President Joe Biden in the fall general election.

With Rep.-elect George Latimer celebrating a solid win over Bowman in the Westchester County-based NY-16, moderates boast their wins will position the Democratic Party closer to the political center as they try to win over swing voters, especially in the suburbs.

“This is a victory for mainstream Democratic values, the values of the broad Democratic coalition that has been so critical for our nation,” Latimer said Wednesday. “Real results-driven governance is how we will win the House, make Hakeem Jeffries Majority Leader and re-elect President Biden.”

John Avlon, a former CNN anchor, also credits his moderate message with helping him win a 2-1-landslide Democratic primary win over a more progressive rival on Long Island.

He says it will help him battle Rep. Nick LaLota in an East End swing district, one of five GOP-held districts in New York that Biden won in 2020.

“In the math of politics, the vital center is the best place to be … especially in a swing district like mine,” Avlon told the Daily News. “I’m a common sense Democrat and to me, that’s the sweet spot between the head and the heart.”

Latimer won by an impressive 58%-42% margin over Bowman overall in the NY-16 district and romped to a landslide 26% win in the suburban Westchester County portion of the district.

Bowman, 48, a charismatic former Bronx middle school principal, became the first incumbent member of Congress to lose a primary this year. He fell to defeat despite racking up an impressive 86%-14% margin in the sliver of the Bronx that remained in the district after a controversial redistricting effort.

Latimer’s big win amounts to a political earthquake in Democratic circles with moderates claiming the upper hand over progressives in New York and beyond.

To moderates and pro-Israel Democrats, that’s a road map for uniting the party to win swing seats in suburbs and swing districts across the state.

“Replacing more extreme candidates with mainstream people … improves the party’s image and will help Democrats from top to bottom of the ticket,” said Mark Mellman of the Democratic Majority for Israel. “We are a bigger tent and we need to tell voters that.”

Not all Democrats agree.

Progressives like the Working Families Party and Justice Democrats say pro-Israel groups, including some bankrolled by right-wing Republicans, effectively engineered Bowman’s defeat to punish him for his outspoken criticism of Israel’s war in Gaza.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee alone pumped more than $15 million into ousting Bowman, they note.

Supporters of Israel counter that they have every right to express their views and put their money where they please. They say claims of “foreign meddling” are antisemitic tropes.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Republicans hold a slim six-vote majority in the House, meaning Democrats need to flip just four seats to likely win back the chamber.

Democrats have targeted five blue-leaning seats in New York, including those held by Rep. Mike Lawler and Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, along with one in suburban New Jersey. There are several similar districts in deep-blue California.

If Democrats win, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries would almost certainly become House Speaker.

Pundits who don’t have a dog in the race say managing the tensions between moderates and progressives will be a crucial and tricky task for party leaders and stakeholders as the fall campaign looms.

“Democratic moderates emphasize two things: party unity amidst Republican chaos, and policy cohesion despite glaring differences on some of the most pressing issues,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and Columbia University professor. “The hope is that this strategy … may be just enough to beat Trump and take back the House.”