U.S. Democrats take stock after party leader’s House upset

Politics

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Democrats searched for meaning on Wednesday in the shocking upset of U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley, a member of the Democratic House leadership, by a 28-year-old liberal organizer in a New York primary ahead of November’s midterm elections.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Chairman of the House Democratic Conference, along with Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, was ousted by former Bernie Sanders organizer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a safely Democratic district in New York City. It was the biggest primary upset since Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost in 2014 to a little-known right-wing professor, Dave Brat.

The outcome in New York added fuel to the battle between the Democratic Party’s establishment wing, led by long-time House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and a more liberal faction inspired by Sanders’ presidential run in 2016.

Some Democrats said the result showed the growing power of the party’s grassroots left-wing insurgents.

“This is yet another canary in the coal mine for both November and the years ahead,” said Joshua Henne, a Democratic strategist. “You can look back four years to around now when Eric Cantor was knocked off and what that meant for an ascendant wing on the right. This is a big deal.”

But Pelosi shrugged off the result. Asked by reporters in Washington if it meant Democratic socialism was ascendant in the Democratic Party, she said: “It’s ascendant in that district, perhaps.”

Along with New York, voters in Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah picked candidates on Tuesday for the Nov. 6 midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Democrats need to flip 23 of 435 seats to take over the House of Representatives, which would stymie much of Trump’s agenda while likely opening up new avenues of investigation into his administration. They would have to net two seats to take the Senate, but face longer odds there.

“The Trump administration is a threat to everything we stand for here in Queens and the Bronx, and if we don’t win back the House this November, we will lose the nation we love,” Crowley said in a statement, pledging to support Ocasio-Cortez in the general election.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Chairman of the House Democratic Conference, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

TRUMP’S INFLUENCE SHOWS

In other races, two Republicans backed by U.S. President Donald Trump prevailed in their nominating contests, again underscoring his influence among the party’s voters.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster beat businessman John Warren in a runoff election held a day after the incumbent campaigned alongside the president.

In a bitter matchup in New York City’s Staten Island borough, incumbent Dan Donovan easily held off the man he replaced in Congress, Michael Grimm, who resigned three years ago after pleading guilty to tax fraud.

“New York, and my many friends on Staten Island, have elected someone they have always been very proud of,” Trump said on Twitter late on Tuesday, congratulating Donovan.

Grimm, a bombastic former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent known for once threatening to toss a television reporter off a balcony, had cast himself as the true Trump supporter in what had become a nasty, insult-laden campaign. He said his conviction was due to a “witch hunt,” echoing Trump’s characterization of the investigation into his campaign’s possible ties to Russia.

The district is considered within reach for Democrats in November.

Elsewhere in the country, liberal Democratic candidates saw mixed results.

In Maryland, Ben Jealous, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, defeated Rushern Baker, a veteran politician, in what was seen as another win for liberal Democrats.

Jealous would be the state’s first black governor if he can beat popular incumbent Republican Larry Hogan in November.

In Colorado, however, an establishment-backed Democrat defeated a liberal insurgent to win the right to take on incumbent Republican Representative Mike Coffman, whose district favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Jason Crow, an Iraq war veteran backed by the national party, overcame Levi Tillemann, who was endorsed by Our Revolution, a group born out of Sanders’ presidential bid. Tillemann earned attention this month with an anti-gun violence video in which he blasted himself in the face with pepper spray.

Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell

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