Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), both powerful committee chairs, are locked in primary race nail-biters with their progressive challengers.
Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, was in more trouble as of Wednesday morning. Jamaal Bowman, his challenger who scooped up endorsements from the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was leading him 60.9 percent to 35.6.
Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was maintaining a tiny lead against Suraj Patel, with 41.5 percent to his 40. That may be a small comfort, since she wiped the floor with him in the 2018 primary.
Both of these races will now enter a period of stasis as election officials prepare to wade through the millions of absentee ballots making their way through the mail. As long as the ballots were postmarked by Election Day and received by June 30, they’ll be counted.
If the absentee votes reverse Maloney’s lead or strengthen Bowman’s, these would be significant upsets. Both New Yorkers are veteran lawmakers; Eliot has been in the House since 1989, and Maloney since 1993. And they both helm extremely powerful committees.
For Engel, signs of trouble this time came as the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging his home state and his district, which included the epicenter of the original outbreak.
Engel, though, was shuttered in his Washington home for much of it. His absence became conspicuous as other lawmakers, some equally old and at risk, went home to be among their constituents.
His attempts to minimize his absence were odd: when interviewed at his home by the Atlantic in May, he claimed that he was quarantined in “both places” and that he had been “part of” a recent mask giveaway in his district, despite having been holed up in Washington since March.
He increased his own troubles with an ill-timed gaffe at a June news conference following bouts of civil unrest in New York after the police killing of George Floyd.
At the event, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. seemed to be thanking Eliot for coming, but said he has a list of other speakers to get through. Eliot could be heard responding that “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
Diaz recoiled: “Don’t do that to me. We’re not gonna do this. We’re not politicizing. Everybody’s got a primary, you know. I’m sorry.”
Eliot tried to explain the comment later, saying he only meant that he wouldn’t “impose” himself on the borough president unless he had an election, during which time it’s important to tell constituents where he stands.
But the damage was done. Bowman pounced on the video, saying that “We need to be taking care of our communities right now — whether it’s election season or not.”
Maloney’s campaign was marked less by self-destruction and more by the vicious accusations she and challenger Patel launched at each other.
Maloney packaged Patel’s use of fake Tinder profiles to engage with voters and comments about a 40-year-old dating a 17-year-old being “not that bad” to accuse him of being “creepy” and anti-women.
In turn, Patel accused Maloney of being racist and highlighted her now-renounced, once-championed belief in the link between vaccines and autism. Patel tried to use the ammunition to tar her as unfit to lead during the coronavirus pandemic, a vaccine for which is hurriedly being developed.
Both Maloney and Engel, bruised by their campaigns and likely taken aback by the strength of their challengers, now have to sweat it out until absentee ballots are allowed to be tabulated next week.
They might have a New York election horror story in mind. In 2018, a young upstart sent shockwaves through the political world when she unseated veteran lawmaker Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) by a wide margin.
Last night, that political upstart easily sailed to another primary win: incumbent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat back her opponent with a resounding 73 percent of the vote.