New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman lost his Democratic primary race to challenger George Latimer, making Bowman the first “squad” member to lose an election since being voted into Congress. Bowman’s opposition to Israel in the war in Gaza played a significant role in the election, which brought major endorsements and millions of dollars to each side of the race.

Progressive politics, Israel dominate most expensive primary race ever

On Tuesday night, CNN projected that Westchester County Executive George Latimer had defeated Bowman in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th Congressional District. Latimer had been recruited to run in the race by pro-Israel organizations to oppose Bowman, who has been critical of Israel for years, especially since the war in Gaza began on October 7. This stance has divided voters in Bowman’s district, which includes parts of the Bronx, which Bowman calls home, and Westchester County, which has a significant Jewish population that became uncomfortable with Bowman’s stances and rhetoric. Beyond the candidates’ opposing views on Israel, Bowman has been a prominent progressive voice in Congress, while Latimer is seen as a moderate and centrist.

The race brought in around $20 million, making it the most expensive primary race ever recorded. Most of that money came from pro-Israel lobbying organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The Justice Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus primarily supported Bowman. The race also brought prominent endorsements to both sides. Bowman was supported by “squad” members like fellow New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Latimer, meanwhile, was endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Defeat for Bowman and setback for the 'squad'

Bowman’s loss represents the impact of foreign affairs on this year’s election cycle and reflects the culmination of his sometimes unorthodox approach to politics. Bowman was among only six Democrats to vote against President Joe Biden’s major infrastructure bill. Bowman, a former middle school principal, argued that it did not include social spending such as increased funds for education. The move caused some to view him as outside of the mainstream within the Democratic Party. The congressman also had a minor scandal last year when he pulled a fire alarm in one of the House office buildings, delaying a vote on a spending bill that Democrats were attempting to push back and review. Though Bowman claimed the incident was an accident, he ultimately accepted a plea deal for a misdemeanor charge, a $1,000 fine and an apology to his colleagues.

Bowman’s defeat represents the first time a “squad” member has lost an election since entering Congress. Bowman is one of several who faced increased challenges over their opposition to the war in Gaza. Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee easily won her April primary, and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress and a harsh critic of the Biden administration’s support for Israel in the war, also won her primary. However, Missouri Rep. Cori Bush is currently trailing her challenger ahead of an August primary in another race in which differences over progressive politics and foreign policy play critical roles. Bowman’s loss indicates there may be limits to the ability of the “squad” and other progressive Democrats who have joined Congress since 2020, primarily as Republicans and centrist Democrats actively seek to push them out.

As Latimer moves on to what will likely be an easy November victory in a heavily Democratic district, it remains to be seen what the future holds for Bowman as he is poised to exit Congress when the term ends. We will see whether other congressional progressives will maintain their positions in the coming months.