There are two Democratic primary races voting on June 23rd where the battle seems familiar but is being fought on a new paradigm. In both New York’s 16th and the Kentucky Senate Primary, there is what looks to be a fairly conventional left versus establishment election happening, but in both places the primaries are more interesting than that. In both cases because the left’s usual problem in Democratic primaries – that black voters don’t support them – could be neutralized, as in both cases the progressive is a black man.
Let’s start with the battle to lose to Mitch McConnell in November in Kentucky, where the DSCC-endorsed money machine Amy McGrath is spending like crazy to avoid losing to her progressive challenger Charles Booker. Booker is the rare candidate who can unite progressives, African Americans, and the state political establishment, as evidenced by the last Senate nominee to lose to McConnell endorsing him last week. To get Alison Lundgren Grimes and Bernie Sanders behind the same candidate is rare. Booker’s black support means that he can win this against the national figure that McGrath has cut herself as a Resistance figure who can (allegedly) take on McConnell. McGrath is down by 8%, per Civiqs polling, and for once the establishment candidate can’t rely on non-white voters to save them. Booker is winning whites in the primary by 3%, and a big lead amongst non-white boosts the overall lead to that 8%.
In New York 16, we see the same dynamics in play – a progressive who is able to put together a coalition of both young white progressives, many of whom will still be voting for Bernie Sanders despite the primary being over, and black voters to take a commanding lead per Data For Progress. For Jamaal Bowman to be putting a House committee chair not just in trouble but in the underdog spot, especially after just seeing Joe Crawley lose as the House Dem #4 last cycle, is instructive. This is not just about the candidates themselves, but also about the fact that this coalition is the future of the progressive movement.
Both Booker and Bowman have to be favorites to win when full results are in from their respective races, which won’t be on Tuesday – New York 16 won’t have full results until July 2nd, and Kentucky won’t count any ballots until June 30 – but not insurmountable ones. If the polls are right, the progressive left will be able to see the trend of the winners of primary upsets over two cycles and see that, with one exception, it is happening when the left runs a candidate of color who can unite progressives without bleeding votes with blacks. Whether it was Booker, Bowman, or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the left does well when they can get a candidate who can win non-white voters. The one exception – Marie Newman in Illinois 3rd – was running with the explicit support of that noted left podcast *checks notes* Pod Save America, so drawing much from a primary where many people from both left and center of the Democratic Party wanted the incumbent gone isn’t worth it. If the left wants to keep suffering the losses it has, that’s their right, but if Bowman and Booker pull it off, it’ll be more evidence for the left of the path open to them.
Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) is Managing Editor and Head Of Content at LeanTossup.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.