It’s primary day for us here in New York State. One of the bad things about New York voting, partly by design, is that the state runs elections with a deliberate inefficiency. So federal primaries (House races) are on a different day than state primaries (governor). In 2016, the presidential primary was on yet a third date. In this case, it goes back to a court decision about the date of the federal primary, though a major contributing issue is indifference to making it easier to vote. We also don’t have early voting or mail in voting or really any other cool innovations from the last thirty years. But I’m not here to gripe, at least not mainly. Today in New York City a bunch of the longtime House incumbents are facing serious primary challenges: the big ones are Joe Crowley (v. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), Carolyn Maloney (v. Suraj Patel), Elliot Engel (v. Jonathan Lewis) and Yvette Clarke (v. Adem Bunkeddeko).
I think this is great. This doesn’t mean I think all the challengers should win or that I’d necessarily vote for them. Some I would, others I wouldn’t – largely based on my estimation of the incumbent. Like for instance, though I don’t think he’s facing a serious challenge, I’d definitely vote for my former Rep. Jerry Nadler. (I didn’t move. His district moved. Carolyn Maloney is my Rep. now.)
But in general, this is all an example of political vibrancy, both in the Democratic party and the political world more generally. The challengers are generally much younger, not white, generally further to the left – though there are exceptions in each case. Some of the races fit clearer into the Democratic mainstream v Sanders wing template. Others are more sui generis. Most of these Democrat incumbents were first elected in a very different Democratic party and a pretty different country. In the nature of incumbency in a heavily Democratic city few have faced any serious challengers in years or decades. It’s good to air issues, good to give an opportunity for change if the incumbents lack or have lost deep and vital roots in their districts.
My understanding is that the incumbents are expected to win in each case. But it’s a funny year and these are aggressive challenges. Incumbents who don’t think they have anything to worry about generally pat challengers on the head and take the high road. That’s not happening in any of these races.
Of course, there’s also the race on Staten Island, Grimm v Donovan, a convicted felon who threatened to defenestrate a reporter and his successor who offered him a corrupt pardon to get out of the race. That should be fun too.