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George Latimer defeated Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman in New York's primary

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In New York, George Latimer defeated Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman in a primary race on Tuesday that was dominated by Israel's war in Gaza. While the race focused on a war that's happening thousands of miles away, it also showed how all politics is local. Here to talk more about this incumbent defeat is WNYC's Michelle Bocanegra. Welcome.

MICHELLE BOCANEGRA, BYLINE: Hey, happy to be here.

CHANG: Hey. So I know that you spent a very late night last night reviewing all the results in this race. What more can you tell us about how voters seem to have sided in this district?

BOCANEGRA: So just for perspective, the district runs from the north Bronx to southern Westchester and is largely suburban. But it does have some dense urban areas, like Yonkers, where Bowman has done well in previous elections. And this time around, you know, Bowman did well in the Bronx while Latimer did well in Westchester County, which does make up most of the district.

CHANG: And when you were talking to voters, what are some of the reasons that they gave you for why they chose to back Latimer?

BOCANEGRA: So pro-Israel voters who were offended by some of Bowman's criticisms of Israel have accused him of antisemitism, which sort of made Latimer as the pro-Israel Democrat in the race - sort of the clear choice in that regard. He's backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - or AIPAC - which, of course, has spent a lot of money on the race.

But I think most importantly, for folks at home, Latimer is really a local politician who has decades of boots on the ground, talking to people in the district, meeting with elected officials and all that stuff. So, you know, here is Latimer just dismissing what he considers ideological extremes that really run counter to what he feels is his pragmatist approach towards government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE LATIMER: We have to look at the arguments of the far right and the far left and say, you cannot destroy this country.

BOCANEGRA: And his win really represents sort of a return to the traditional democratic norms that had ruled over New York's more moderate suburbs to the north of the city. And, you know, what's interesting about that is Bowman was viewed as the guy that sort of took on the establishment back in 2020 in his Democratic primary against Eliot Engel, who was a 16-term incumbent who lost that year to Bowman.

CHANG: But what about the role of money? Because wasn't this, like, the most expensive House primary in the U.S. so far? Like, how did money influence this race, you think?

BOCANEGRA: Yeah, it definitely was. And I think the most evident answer, as far as what voters in the district will tell you, is that there was this onslaught of political advertising attacking candidates that they just really weren't used to prior to this race. And it was really a lot for people to stomach.

And for progressives who are concerned about the United States' role in the war in Gaza, they think this outcome - Latimer's win - could potentially have a silencing effect, not just on pro-Palestinian sentiment, but also just a host of other progressive issues.

Here's Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Saturday talking about how other Congress members could be afraid to speak out on other issues important to progressives if Bowman lost the race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: They're going to be looking all around them. And they're going to be saying, is the billionaire class going to spend millions of dollars against me in my campaign?

CHANG: And real quick, Michelle, because this was such a contentious race for a primary, where do you think Democrats in New York go from here?

BOCANEGRA: I think that part remains to be seen. You know, a voter I talked to at a Bowman rally in the district with Bernie Sanders last week says it's going to be difficult considering how vicious it all has become. And, you know, this fracture is coming at a time when Democrats are seeking to retake the majority in the House, with a slate of suburban districts just to the north of New York City and out on Long Island really being key factors here.

CHANG: That is Michelle Bocanegra with WNYC in New York. Thank you so much, Michelle.

BOCANEGRA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PUTH SONG, "LEFT AND RIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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