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Rep. Jamaal Bowman faces tough challenge from George Latimer in Democratic primary in NY suburbs

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, one of the most liberal members of Congress, will try to fight off a strong Democratic primary challenge Tuesday from moderate county executive George Latimer in a New York race that has put a spotlight on the party’s divides over the Israel-Hamas war.

Latimer got into the race at the urging of Jewish leaders upset with Bowman’s criticism of Israel.

An exorbitant amount of money, mostly tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has flooded into the race to oppose Bowman after he accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, where over 37,000 Palestinians have been killed. Bowman also opposed a symbolic House resolution to support Israel after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

AIPAC’s allied super PAC has spent nearly $15 million on the primary, according to Federal Election Commission records. The cash paid for a torrent of ads attacking Bowman, who has accused the influential pro-Israel lobbying group of trying to buy the race in the mostly suburban district north of New York City.

A Bowman loss would disrupt what has generally been a stable primary season for congressional incumbents. Most current members of Congress have been able to repel challenges from within their party, though GOP Rep. Bob Good is in a tight contest with a rival backed by Donald Trump in a race that is too close to call.

Some major progressive figures have rushed to Bowman’s defense. In the final stretch of the race, he rallied with liberal darlings Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Latimer pulled in the endorsement of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The winner of the primary will be the prohibitive favorite to win in the general election. The district, which includes parts of Westchester County and a small piece of the Bronx, is a Democratic stronghold.

The primary fight has emerged as a case study of where Democratic voters might stand on Israel and exposed the ever-simmering tensions between the party’s liberals and centrists.

Latimer, 70, has been in politics for more than three decades. He was in the state legislature for years before becoming the Westchester County executive in 2018. His campaign has mostly been about his knowledge of the district and the relationships there that would allow him to be an effective member of Congress.

Latimer says he wants to go to the House to extract what he can for the district, not to score political points or get on cable TV. He has portrayed himself as a staunch supporter of Israel and says the country can’t negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas because Hamas is terrorist organization.

Bowman, a former middle school principal, has framed the race as a contest between big-money donors and average voters. He has vigorously defended his position on Israel and calls for a cease-fire in the current conflict, while condemning Hamas for their Oct. 7 attack in Israel.

In an interview before the election, Bowman said he wasn’t paying attention to the noise around the race. Instead, he said he wanted to continue helping working-class people in the district and try to get young people involved in the political process.

Bowman is seeking his third term in a district whose boundaries have shifted since he first won office in 2020, losing most of its sections in the Bronx and adding more of Westchester County’s suburbs.

Today, 21% of its voting-age population is Black and 42% is non-Hispanic white, according to Census figures, compared to 30% Black and 34% white in the district as it existed through 2022. Bowman is Black. Latimer is white.

Nationally, Democratic Party leaders have emphasized moving toward centrist candidates who might fare better in suburban races.

New York Democrats will also decide another primary Tuesday, this one on the eastern end of Long Island, between former CNN pundit John Avlon and scientist Nancy Goroff.

That seat, which is represented by incumbent Rep. Nick LaLota, is one of a handful of targets for Democrats in New York, as the party tries to flip suburban congressional districts and retake control of the House.

Avlon has secured several endorsements from party officials, including some current members of Congress, who argue he can stand on a moderate platform to take on LaLota in an area that’s swung to the right in most recent elections. Goroff ran for the seat in 2020 but lost by about 10 points.

Also on Tuesday, Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney faces a primary challenge from businessman Mario Fratto in a sprawling, conservative district that includes the state’s Finger Lakes region and rural areas along Lake Ontario. Tenney defeated Fratto by 14 points in a primary in 2022.

Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press