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15 primary races to watch in New York

Multiple high-profile members of Congress face tough primary challenges in New York.

A graphic that reads New York races to watch.
Multiple high-profile members of Congress face primary challenges in New York.

After New York’s June 23 primaries, a few of the Democratic Party’s highest-profile and longest-serving House members could be picked off.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been in Congress since 1989, appears to be the most vulnerable member on Tuesday. His chief challenger, Bronx middle school founding principal Jamaal Bowman, has mounted a formidable campaign and has picked up a number of big endorsements from progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The Democratic establishment has stepped in to try to save Engelhe was Hillary Clinton’s first House primary endorsement of the cycle — but it’s not clear if it will be enough.

While Engel has more money overall, Bowman has put up strong fundraising numbers, and both have outside groups spending on their behalf. Engel has also been criticized for his absence from his district — New Rochelle, which is in his district, was an early hot spot for Covid-19. And then there’s Engel’s “hot mic” moment, when at a news conference in the Bronx about civil unrest, he was overheard saying twice, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.” Engel has tried to explain the remarks, saying he was just trying to convey he felt it was important to hear him speak, but it’s helped Bowman, who is well-connected in the community and has broken through in local media, gain more momentum.

“He already has the idea of what the systemic changes are that we need so that people are not slipping through the gaps,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, New York state director for the Working Families Party, which has endorsed Bowman.

The Engel-Bowman race isn’t the only competitive one, or the only one that is at least interesting to watch. Reps. Yvette Clarke, Carolyn Maloney, and Jerry Nadler are all facing significant challengers, though of those, Clarke’s seat appears to be the only one that might be at risk. And the crowded primaries to fill the seats of Reps. Jose Serrano and Nita Lowey, neither of whom is running for reelection, have uncertain outcomes.

Many of New York’s congressional districts encompass diverse communities with significant splits along socioeconomic and racial lines, which will also come into play on Tuesday. The 16th District, which Engel represents, contains parts of both the Bronx and Westchester County. And New York’s entire delegation is emblematic of the inequalities of New York: Both the highest-income congressional district in the country (Maloney’s District 12) and the lowest-income (Serrano’s, District 15) are seeing competitive races right now.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has some upstart primary challengers of her own, skyrocketed to the spotlight in 2018 after her surprise defeat of Joe Crowley, and in the 2020 primaries, New York could deliver another such surprise. Here are 15 congressional races to keep an eye on, what’s at stake, and, how they’re shaking out. Because so many people are likely voting absentee by mail, it will likely take a while to get results.

New York’s First Congressional District: A scientist and a business leader compete to take on Rep. Lee Zeldin

Who are the Democrats? A crowded field of Democrats is competing to take on incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin in New York’s coastal Long Island district, which Cook Political Report has rated “Likely Republican” this cycle.

The Democrats in this year’s primary are business leader Perry Gershon (who is running again), Stony Brook University chemistry professor Nancy Goroff, consultant Greg Fischer, and Suffolk County legislator Bridget Fleming. As of the end of March, Gershon and Goroff were leading the field in fundraising, bringing in more than $1 million each, according to City and State New York.

Who are the Republicans? Rep. Lee Zeldin, a staunch Trump ally, is an incumbent who’s vying for his fourth term.

What’s the background on the race? The district — which backed President Barack Obama in 2012 before voting for Donald Trump in 2016 — is seen as a battleground in 2020. Zeldin won by roughly 4 points against Gershon in 2018, but a Democrat had held the seat from 2003 to 2014.

Both leading Democrats, Gershon and Goroff, are focused on critiquing Zeldin’s allegiance to Trump (he’s voted with the president 88 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight), and have leaned into their respective expertise: Goroff, for example, was the chair of the Stony Brook chemistry department before taking leave to run for Congress and has emphasized the importance of having scientists as elected officials. Gershon, too, has argued that his expertise in real estate development and in business indicate that he’s able to produce results in a way that politicians have not.

Given how narrow Zeldin’s margins were in 2018 compared to the previous election year, whoever wins the Democratic primary this week is expected to give him a tough fight in November.

New York’s Second Congressional District: Peter King’s open seat prompts contested races among both Republicans and Democrats

Who are the Democrats? Former Babylon Town Council member Jackie Gordon and advertising executive Patricia Maher are competing to flip Rep. Peter King’s seat. Gordon is seen as the frontrunner given the backing she’s gained from regional Democratic Party members.

Who are the Republicans? State Assembly member Andrew Garbarino and Michael LiPetri are on the ballot on the GOP side. Garbarino has picked up local party support as well as King’s endorsement.

What’s the background on the race? Both Democrats and Republicans have competitive primaries in this South Shore Long Island district, held by King, who has opted not to run again. King has held the seat ever since he won in 2012, and Cook Political Report rates it as Lean Republican, a sign that it could be a potential pickup for Democrats this cycle. In 2018, King beat Democratic competitor Liuba Grechen Shirley by approximately 6 points.

New York’s Fifth Congressional District: Shaniyat Chowdhury faces an uphill battle in trying to unseat Rep. Gregory Meeks

Who are the Democrats? Rep. Gregory Meeks represents New York’s Fifth Congressional District, which encompasses part of Queens and Nassau County. He’s being challenged from the left by Shaniyat Chowdhury, an activist and former Marine.

Who are the Republicans? No candidates have filed to run on the Republican ticket.

What’s the background on the race? Meeks has been in Congress since 1998 and is well-established in local and national politics. He’s a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and the chair of the Queens County Democratic Party.

His challenger, Chowdhury, 28, was born and raised in Queens to Bangladeshi parents. He lives in NYCHA housing in Queens, has worked in local politics and organizing, and appears, like many challengers, to be modeling himself after Ocasio-Cortez — he worked on her insurgent 2018 campaign. He’s been endorsed by Nassau County’s division of Democratic Socialists of America, but not the Queens division.

Meeks has never really faced a serious primary challenge, and his seat looks very solid. In the 2018 primary election, he had two challengers and still got more than 80 percent of the vote, and he has consistently easily won reelection. In other words, Chowdhury faces an uphill battle.

New York’s Ninth Congressional District: Rep. Yvette Clarke tries to fend off Adem Bunkeddeko in a 2018 repeat

Who are the Democrats? New York’s Ninth Congressional District in central Brooklyn is represented by Rep. Yvette Clarke. In 2018, Adem Bunkeddeko, the son of Ugandan refugees who has worked in economic development, came close to defeating Clarke in the Democratic primary, and he’s running again in 2020. Isiah James, Chaim Deutsch, and Lutchi Gayot are in the primary as well.

Who is the Republican? Flatbush-born Constantin Jean-Pierre is running as a Republican in the Ninth District.

What’s the background on the race? This race is likely to be a tight one between Clarke and Bunkeddeko.

Clarke is one of the most progressive members of Congress, so Bunkeddeko, 32, isn’t exactly running to her left but instead is positioning himself as a fresh face who will go to Washington and get things done. His background is compelling: He was born to Ugandan refugees, earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, and worked for the Empire State Development Corporation. He received the endorsement of the New York Times’s editorial board. Clarke, the only black woman in New York’s congressional delegation, is taking the challenge seriously.

Isiah James, an Army veteran and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is also challenging Clarke, and he could draw votes from Bunkeddeko. It’s unclear whether Chaim Deutsch, a Brooklyn City Council member who is trying to court the Orthodox Jewish parts of the district, will pull votes from Clarke, or what impact Lutchi Gayot may have.

Clarke, Bunkeddeko, and James faced off in a debate in early June. Clarke’s opponents tried to cast her as someone who has failed to get things done on Capitol Hill. She pushed back, also bringing up her gender. “These men have appropriated what I have done,” she said, “which is pretty typical of men.”

New York’s 10th Congressional District: Rep. Jerry Nadler faces two challengers, one a former Cuomo adviser, the other Andrew Yang-inspired

Who are the Democrats? New York’s 10th Congressional District, which encompasses much of the West Side of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, is represented by Rep. Jerry Nadler, also the House Judiciary Committee chair. He’s being challenged by Lindsey Boylan and Jonathan Herzog.

Who is the Republican? Cathy Bernstein will be on the ballot in November.

What’s the background on the race? Nadler appears well-positioned to beat back both his challengers in this race.

Herzog worked for Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign before quitting to run for Congress and has focused much of his bid on universal basic income. Boylan, a former state economic development official and adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has mounted a pretty serious campaign, raised a lot of money, and generated media buzz. She’s not exactly running to Nadler’s left — as mentioned, she worked for the governor — but rather as a sort of resistance figure who will bring fresh blood to Washington.

“No one is entitled to keep their seat,” Boylan told Vox in 2019.

Whereas progressive Democrats have rallied behind some congressional challengers, that’s not been the case for those trying to take on Nadler. Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Working Families Party endorsed Nadler. “He has been a real leader and champ for working people for a long time,” Nnaemeka, of the Working Families Party, said.

New York’s 11th Congressional District: Republicans face off to try to unseat Rep. Max Rose in November

Who is the Democrat? Rep. Max Rose, who unseated Republican Daniel Donovan in 2018, represents the district, which encompasses Staten Island and parts of south Brooklyn.

Who are the Republicans? Assembly member Nicole Malliotakis and former prosecutor Joe Caldarera are competing to go up against Rose in November.

What’s the background on the race? Republicans are hoping to flip this seat back to red in 2020. Rose, a military veteran, unseated Republican incumbent Dan Donovan during the 2018 midterms, winning by about 10 points. Trump won the district in 2016 by about 15 points.

Trump has endorsed Malliotakis, who made an unsuccessful run for New York City mayor in 2017. According to the Associated Press, she has suggested that New York is getting less federal aid for coronavirus relief compared to other states “because of our leadership,” and said she believes it’s important for the city to have a Republican voice in Congress. Caldarera has accused Malliotakis of being “one of the most left-leaning liberal Republicans” in New York. The New York Post has endorsed Malliotakis, while Caldarera has the support of the National Rifle Association.

Cook Political Report rates New York’s 11th Congressional District as a toss-up, so whoever wins on Tuesday will face a tight race in November.

New York’s 12th Congressional District: Rep. Carolyn Maloney benefits from a crowded field of challengers

Who are the Democrats? Rep. Carolyn Maloney represents this district, which encompasses much of the East Side of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Maloney has three challengers: Lauren Ashcroft, Peter Harrison, and Suraj Patel.

Who is the Republican? Carlos Santiago-Cano, who runs a coffee company, will be on the Republican ticket in the general election.

What’s the background on the race? Suraj Patel, an attorney and NYU professor, ran against Maloney in the 2018 primary and lost to her by about 20 points. Now, he and two other candidates — comedian and former JPMorgan project manager Lauren Ashcroft, and housing activist and democratic socialist Peter Harrison — are trying to take her out. The multiple challengers could wind up being to Maloney’s benefit.

“Maloney would have been vulnerable — she’s one of the most vulnerable members of the New York congressional delegation — but she very much benefited from a split field, and she has spent incredible amounts,” said Sean McElwee, the executive director of Data for Progress. Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, will likely do well on the Upper East Side, and the other candidates may very well split the vote in more progressive areas of the district.

The race has become heated. Patel has accused Maloney’s ads of being racist, and she has questioned his use of Tinder banking, where campaigns use fake profiles on dating apps to try to reach voters, in 2018.

New York’s 14th Congressional District: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now the incumbent, with Democratic challengers of her own

Who are the Democrats? Two years after she upset former Rep. Joe Crowley as an insurgent challenger in her Bronx- and Queens-based district, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running for reelection and facing some challengers of her own.

Widely viewed as the favorite in the primary, Ocasio-Cortez is up against three Democrats including former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, activist Badrun Khan, and chess player Samuel Sloan. Caruso-Cabrera, a former Republican who is running to the right of Ocasio-Cortez on issues including health care, has fundraised the most of the challengers and has picked up the backing of the US Chamber of Congress.

Who is the Republican? Former police officer and current Catholic school teacher John Cummings is mounting a long-shot bid to unseat Ocasio-Cortez.

What’s the background on the race? Despite the pushback she’s received both from Republicans and some members of the Democratic establishment, Ocasio-Cortez continues to have strong support both in her district and beyond. According to a report from the Hill, Ocasio-Cortez has raised a staggering $10.5 million this cycle, a hefty chunk of which is small-dollar donations. She’s likely to beat her primary challengers.

Given the heavy Democratic lean of the district, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to win by a significant margin in November, much like she did in 2018 when she beat Republican Anthony Pappas by more than 60 points.

New York’s 15th Congressional District: A dozen candidates compete for Rep. José Serrano’s seat

Who are the Democrats? Rep. José Serrano announced last year he is retiring, citing the effects of Parkinson’s disease. There are a lot of people running for his seat: Tomas Ramos, Samelys López, Frangell Basora, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Michael Blake, Rubén Díaz Sr., Mark Escoffery-Bey, Ritchie Torres, Chivona Newsome, Ydanis Rodriguez, Julio Pabón, and Marlene Tapper.

Who is the Republican? Orlando Molina will be on the Republican ticket in the general election.

What’s the background on the race? The 15th District encompasses the South Bronx and some of the West Bronx and is among the lowest-income congressional districts in the country. It is very blue, but it could wind up sending a super-conservative Democrat — Ruben Diaz Sr. — to Congress.

Diaz, who is on the New York City Council and previously served in the New York state Senate, is a socially conservative Christian pastor. He opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and has a long history of making insensitive remarks. In 2019, he was roundly criticized for saying he wouldn’t report sexual harassment because he wouldn’t be a “rat.”

Progressives sounded the alarm at the possibility that Diaz might win. The problem is, nobody can agree who is the best person to take him on. Ritchie Torres, a member of the New York City Council and the first openly gay candidate to hold elected office in the Bronx, might be best positioned against Diaz. A Data for Progress poll found Diaz leading the field with 22 percent support, followed by Torres at 20 percent. The New York Times editorial board and the New York Daily New have both endorsed Torres.

However, there’s hardly a consensus. Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Working Families Party are backing housing advocate Samelys Lopez. Assembly member Michael Blake, who is also vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, has been endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus. Former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, and Blake all had 6 percent support in the Data for Progress poll, and 34 percent of voters were undecided.

“There’s a lot at stake in terms of representation,” Nnaemeka said. “A lot of the clearest crises we’re facing are really playing out in the Bronx.”

New York’s 16th Congressional District: Jamaal Bowman looks to pick off Rep. Eliot Engel

Who are the Democrats? Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is the main challenger trying to unseat Rep. Eliot Engel. Chris Fink and Sammy Ravelo are also running.

Who are the Republicans? No Republicans have filed to run in this general election.

What’s the background on the race? This is shaping up to be the New York congressional race with the most national attention and progressive momentum.

Justice Democrats, the group that helped launch Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional career, recruited Bowman to run last year. The primary was initially a relatively crowded one, but it’s now whittled down, and one of the candidates, Andom Ghebreghiorgis, dropped out and backed Bowman earlier this month.

Bowman has sought to paint Engel as absent from his district and especially disconnected during the pandemic and amid protests against police brutality and racism. “I just don’t understand the lack of urgency from our leaders in Washington, or on the state or city level,” he told Vox in an interview last year.

Progressives have also taken aim at Engel over his vote in support of invading Iraq and his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Engel insists he remains connected to the community and that his record is progressive. He has said Bowman is “not a real Democrat,” noting that he only registered as a Democrat in 2018.

If Bowman wins, it will be a big deal.

New York’s 17th Congressional District: A crowded field to take over the seat held by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey

Who are the Democrats? This is another crowded field to take over the seat currently held by Rep. Nita Lowey, who is retiring. The names in the mix: David Buchwald, David Carlucci, Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, Evelyn Farkas, Allison Fine, Mondaire Jones, Catherine Parker, and Adam Schleifer.

Who are the Republicans? Yehudis Gottesfeld and Maureen McArdle-Schulman are competing in the Republican primary for this seat.

What’s the background on the race? This race is a bit of a wily one.

Progressive Mondaire Jones, who had already planned to primary Lowey before she announced her retirement, is seeking to be the first black gay man in Congress. The Harvard law graduate and first-time candidate has picked up multiple high-profile endorsements from progressive politicians, and he’s been endorsed by the Times. “Mondaire is absolutely the progressive in this district,” Nnaemeka said.

But there are multiple others in the mix, and the limited polling there has been shows the race is a tight one. State Sen. David Carlucci, who was a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) that aligned with Republicans in the New York state Senate, is a strong contender, though he’s been criticized for his role in the IDC. Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official, has the backing of Emily’s List. Assembly member David Buchwald, who pushed to change state law to get Trump’s tax returns, was endorsed by the Daily News. Adam Schleifer, a former prosecutor and son of a billionaire, has been able to dump tons of money into his campaign.

The 17th District, which includes Rockland County and parts of Westchester County, is reliably blue, but two Republicans are running in the primary in the hope of flipping it red: Yehudis Gottesfeld, a 25-year-old chemical engineer, and Maureen McArdle Schulman, a 61-year-old former firefighter.

New York’s 19th Congressional District

Who is the Democrat? Rep. Antonio Delgado, who flipped the district blue in 2018.

Who are the Republicans? Army veteran Kyle Van De Water and entrepreneur Ola Hawatmeh.

What’s the background on the race? Delgado is another member of the first-year House class of 2018, who flipped a formerly red district in upstate New York once held by Republican Rep. John Faso. Faso is not running for his old seat again, but Republicans Kyle Van De Water and Ola Hawatmeh are facing off in a contested primary to challenge Delgado. Hawatmeh, a fashion designer and business leader, has more money, but Van De Water has racked up local GOP endorsements, according to the local newspaper the Times Union. As a member of the House, Delgado has focused on issues like lowering health care costs and campaign finance reform. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Delgado’s seat Lean Democratic.

New York’s 22nd Congressional District

Who is the Democrat? Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a moderate Democrat who flipped the district in 2018.

Who are the Republicans? Former Rep. Claudia Tenney is vying to take on Brindisi and see if she can win her old seat back. Also running is George Phillips, who challenged Tenney in a 2016 primary for the seat.

What’s the background on the race? The 2020 race will likely be a rematch between Brindisi and Tenney, after the Democrat narrowly won the district, which encompasses Utica and Binghamton. Brindisi is seen as one of the most moderate Democrats in the House. He touts his commitment to working with Republicans, but he also voted to impeach Trump along with most House Democrats, which Republicans will likely attack him for in the general election. Brindisi won against Tenney by a little over 4,400 votes in 2018, and the district could be close again this year. Cook rates this district a toss-up.

New York’s 24th Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. John Katko, first elected to the House in 2014.

Who are the Democrats? Educator Dana Balter, who was the 2018 Democratic nominee in this district, and Navy veteran Francis Conole.

What’s the background on the race? Democrats fell short in this district around Syracuse in 2018; Balter lost to Katko by about 5 points. Katko is viewed as a more moderate Republican, and he’s held on to his seat in the district although the voters have supported Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in recent presidential cycles. The primary between Balter and Conole will be a test of what kind of Democrat Katko faces in the fall. Balter is in favor of progressive policies like Medicare-for-all, while Conole prefers a public option. While her race last year helped boost Balter’s name ID, Conole is a serious challenger.

New York’s 27th Congressional District

Who are the Republicans? After former Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to 26 months in prison, a number of Republicans are vying to replace him. New York state Sen. Chris Jacobs, attorney Beth Parlato, and Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw are all running.

Who is the Democrat? Attorney Nate McMurray, who narrowly lost to Collins in 2018 before Collins was sentenced and resigned.

What’s the background on the race? There are two races set in New York’s 27th Congressional District this Tuesday. One is a special election to replace embattled Rep. Chris Collins, currently serving a sentence for insider trading. The other is a primary to determine who will run for Collins’s seat this fall.

The special election is between Jacobs — the Republican state senator who has the backing of Trump — and McMurray, who narrowly lost to Collins in 2018 as the insider trading allegations broke. The winner will serve out the remainder of Collins’s term. But the wrinkle here is that Jacobs has two other challengers — Parlato and Mychajliw — in the Republican primary to decide who will challenge McMurray for the seat in the fall.

New York may be a blue state, but the 27th Congressional District is one of its reddest spots. Situated between Buffalo and Rochester, the district voted for Trump in 2016 by 25 points, and voters narrowly stuck with Collins in 2018. While Jacobs is expected to win the GOP primary, it’s not a sure bet. Meanwhile, McMurray, the Democrat who challenged and came within about 1,100 votes of Collins in 2018, is back and hoping to succeed against a new Republican opponent in an area that is still pretty red.