Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Black Progressives Appear To Surge In Primaries, While Trump-Backed Candidates Lose

Former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat, is well ahead of longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in their primary.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
Former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat, is well ahead of longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in their primary.

As protests stemming from George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police spread across the country, Black progressives appear to have had a good night in Democratic primaries Tuesday, while some Republicans endorsed by President Trump did not fare as well on the GOP side.

Three races in New York and Virginia, and perhaps one in Kentucky, highlight what could be the start of something important in Democratic politics — the surge of Black candidates.

As the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman put it, Democratic voters in 2018 "showed an unprecedented desire to nominate women" and this year, there's "another sea change in desire, this time towards Black candidates."

What that could mean for the 2020 presidential race is notable as well. If Democrats have two key pillars of their base fired up and politically activated — women and Black voters — that could be a game-changer, as Trump's ratings continue to suffer.

Looking at Tuesday's results, the upset of the night appears to belong to Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal from the Bronx. He is well ahead of longtime Democratic incumbent Eliot Engel, with more than 60% of the vote.

Many races have not been called yet because of the significant number of absentee ballots that remain to be counted.

Bowman began to surge in recent weeks after Engel, asking to speak at an event, was caught on mic saying, "If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care."

That was in addition to a reporter ringingthe House Foreign Affairs chairman's doorbell a month ago at his home in a tony Washington suburb to find him there rather than in his home district, as New York suffered from the pandemic.

Bowman wound up raising $2 million and surging against the 16-term incumbent, who hasn't faced a competitive primary in 20 years.

Another New York seat, which had been held by longtime retiring Rep. Nita Lowey, has 33-year-old Mondaire Jones well ahead. A former attorney in the Westchester County law office, Jones gained momentum in recent weeks and now leads by double digits. If the result holds up, and Jones wins this fall, he'd be the first openly gay black congressman.

Progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by the way, was facing a primary in her first time standing for reelection. But she easily dispatched former CNBC reporter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with 73% of the vote.

Trump-backed Republicans falter

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, perhaps the surprise of the night was a 24-year-old motivational speaker, Madison Cawthorn. He upset a Trump-backed candidate to replace Mark Meadows, who stepped down from the House to become Trump's chief of staff. Cawthorn was paralyzed from the waist down after a 2014 car accident.

And in Kentucky, Trump tweeted his opposition to giving another term to a sitting congressman, Thomas Massie, who forced a vote on an economic relief package. Massie won overwhelmingly with almost 90% of the vote. Members of Republican leadership backed Massie's primary opponent after Massie forced the vote. But after racist tweets surfaced from that opponent, Massie cruised.

Results are still slow to roll in in the marquee Democratic Kentucky Senate primary, where progressive upstart state Rep. Charles Booker and former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath squared off to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fall.

Booker has seen a boon after speaking out and taking a leadership role in Black Lives Matter protests stemming from the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Taylor was shot and killed by police.

McGrath had brought in a whopping $41 million, was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and had been seen as the overwhelming front-runner before the protests.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Related Stories