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Jamaal Bowman

Bowman enters primary day with little support from Democratic leadership

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) is in a bitter fight for his political life. He’s staring down a tough primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer while being drastically outspent on the airwaves.

However, New York’s 16th District primary has clearly not been a top priority for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his Democratic leadership team.

As part of leadership’s pledge to support incumbents, the top three House Democrats all endorsed Bowman in March and have donated to his campaign. But leadership hasn’t done much more beyond that.

There have been no campaign visits from top Democratic leaders to back Bowman. Jeffries, who is close with AIPAC and starkly diverges from Bowman on Israel, hasn’t spoken out against the avalanche of pro-Latimer spending from AIPAC’s super PAC.

Bowman told us that he’s encouraged by early voting numbers that he says show strong support from his base. And absent Jeffries’ presence, Bowman says he’s “humbled” by support from left-wing leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

“It continues to give me strength to move on and push on and fight on as we fight for justice,” Bowman said.

Jeffries’ team insists the Democratic leader is fully focused on winning back the House and doesn’t have time to dedicate to stumping for Bowman. Jeffries has traveled to Seattle, San Francisco and Louisville to fundraise in the past week. This week, Jeffries found time to record a robocall supporting Bowman.

But it’s hard not to think that some of Bowman’s stances on Israel have put Jeffries in a tough spot when it comes to sticking up for his fellow New Yorker.

Most controversially, in the days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Bowman described reports that Israeli women were raped as “propaganda.” Bowman has since apologized for that statement, but Jeffries is still having to answer for those comments.

Last week, Jeffries told reporters at a memorial for the victims of the Hamas attack that he and Bowman “strongly disagree with each other as it relates to the relationship the U.S has necessarily with Israel.”

Still, Jeffries reiterated that he is supporting all Democratic incumbents up for reelection regardless of their policy differences.

“That doesn’t mean I agree with the positions that are articulated,” Jeffries added.

Bowman, for his part, told us he wished the leader was more present in his race.

“Of course, if the leader has the time to weigh in as much as possible on the race we want him to do so,” Bowman said, calling Jeffries’ endorsement “very helpful.”

Bowman acknowledged that Jeffries’ time commitments take him elsewhere.

“We would love to have him be as available as possible. And so I don’t take it personally,” Bowman said. “I don’t think it’s a personal slight that he hasn’t been.”

A complicated relationship: Jeffries has had a checkered history with progressives like Bowman. Jeffries, along with Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), launched a PAC in 2021 aimed at protecting House Democrats from left-wing challengers.

Team Blue PAC was a clear rebuke of the string of progressive candidates — often backed by Justice Democrats — who were running against longtime incumbents in safe blue seats. As House Democratic leader, Jeffries isn’t affiliated with the PAC anymore.

At the time, then-caucus chair Jeffries touted the importance of the “effort to protect our incredible members.” But three years later, there’s some frustration among progressives that Jeffries hasn’t advocated more forcefully for Bowman.

“The outcome of this election is a reflection on his leadership and whether Hakeem Jeffries stood up to Republican megadonors spending $17 million against NY-16’s first Black congressman or whether he let Donald Trump’s biggest donors win,” Usamah Andrabi, a spokesperson for Justice Democrats, said.

Jeffries spokesperson Christie Stephenson rejected that claim and argued the leader will be judged on taking back the House. “The so-called Justice Democrats stated back in 2017 that their goal was to destroy the Democratic Party, and they laughably threatened to primary Hakeem Jeffries when he first became caucus chair,” Stephenson added. “They have failed miserably in every way. Is anyone surprised?”

While Jeffries and his leadership colleagues say they’re laser-focused on visiting swing seats, there is precedent for party leadership stumping for incumbents in safer territory.

Back in 2022, Jeffries campaigned for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) against young progressive challenger, Kina Collins. That same year, then-House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn campaigned alongside scandal-hit Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) as he faced a brutal primary despite their different positions on abortion.

Bowman’s primary campaign is embracing underdog status, with progressive icons like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez rallying for him over the weekend.

Latimer told us he’s taking notice of who’s visiting to campaign for Bowman.

“I have not seen a coordinated effort to support him from the vast majority of his colleagues in the House,” Latimer said.

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.