Embattled ‘Squad’ members Bowman, Bush face growing primary threat

A couple of the Squad’s most high-profile members are facing formidable primary challenges as criticism over their stances in office mounts. 

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) have both been outraised by their centrist primary opponents, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, even as other ‘Squad’ members like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) are financially thriving.

The development comes as Bush and Bowman have faced blowback not only for their positions on the Israel-Hamas war, but also growing scrutiny over more personal public controversies.

Their possible defeat at the hands of more moderate Democrats would deal a significant blow to the Squad, Congress’s most vocal left-wing group, and hand the establishment-aligned faction of the party a significant victory.

“It’s a very small group to begin with,” Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic pollster and leader of the Democratic Majority for Israel, told The Hill in an interview on Friday. “It would be good for the party and good for the country if it got smaller.”

Bowman, who became the first male Squad member in 2021, quickly rose within the Congressional Progressive Caucus ranks as an effective messenger against some of the left’s biggest targets. He is facing a strong rival in George Latimer, the Westchester County Executive who entered the race in early December.

Like other progressives, Bowman represents a traditionally safe blue seat with virtually no fear of a Republican defeat. But voters have expressed interest in Latimer’s more middle-ground approach to New York’s 14th Congressional District, and the candidate raked in $1.4 million to Bowman’s $724,000 in the last quarter of 2023, according to FEC disclosures. 

Bowman’s campaign waved off their opponent’s numbers.

“There is a fundamental weakness to Latimer’s fundraising,” said Bill Neidhardt, Bowman’s spokesperson for his re-election effort. “His connection to Republican Trump mega donors.” 

Neidhardt referenced Latimer’s campaign holding fundraisers that were held by some well heeled GOP backers, including insurance executive Alex Dubitsky, who hosted a private election event for him, according to the New York Daily News.  

“His money won’t go as far in a Democratic primary where the electorate wants to hold Donald Trump accountable,” Neidhardt said.

Latimer’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

Still, the apparent cash influx has given Latimer’s team a boost as Bowman has found himself in the spotlight over some recent controversies.

In October, Bowman was widely condemned after pulling an office fire alarm in the House the month prior. The scene caused a frenzy within the lower chamber, and Bowman was ultimately charged by prosecutors in D.C., pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Critics speculated that Bowman was trying to pause a vote during the shutdown debate, which he denied. 

He has also come under fire after conspiratorial musings he made about 9/11 while working as a Bronx school principal resurfaced this week. The Daily Beast reported that Bowman elevated multiple false theories about the terrorist attacks.

“Well over a decade ago, as I was debating diving into a doctoral degree, I explored a wide range of books, films, and articles across a wide swath of the political spectrum and processed my thoughts in a personal blog that few people ever read,” Bowman said in a statement to the Daily Beast.

The lawmaker has also been called out for his stances on the conflict in Gaza, even facing pushback from fellow progressives. The left-wing group J Street rescinded their endorsement of Bowman on Jan. 30, saying that they did not align with his “framing and approach” toward the conflict. Bowman had called for a ceasefire in the region earlier than many other Democrats and has referred to Israeli military action against Palestinians as a “genocide.”

Latimer, on the other hand, is staunchly pro-Israel, earning the endorsement of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He also traveled to Israel after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

Yet Bowman, despite his controversies, has also been a close ally of President Biden, playing a leading role in writing the CHIPS and Science Act, which Biden touts as one of his biggest legislative achievements. He also recently commemorated the start of Black History Month by introducing the economic-focused Equity for All Resolution with Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.).

In the fundraising battle, Bush is running closer against her opponent, attorney Wesley Bell. Bell only narrowly out-raised Bush, raking in $492,149 in donations against Bush’s $487,000 in the race.

“Missouri’s 1st District deserves a representative who shows up, does the work and gets things done,” Bell told The Hill in a statement on Thursday. “I’m honored by our fast-growing list of endorsements from community members and local officials, and energized by the incredible momentum of support driving our campaign.”

A spokesperson for Bush did not respond to a request for comment.

The Missouri congresswoman, a Black Lives Matter advocate, has made headlines over her left-wing policy stances, including by promoting the “defund” movement around police reform.

Like Bowman, she has also been mired in scandal recently. The Justice Department said this week that officials are investigating her use of reelection campaign funds for “personal” security. 

Bush acknowledged the probe in a statement on Tuesday and said she is “fully cooperating,” while contending that she has experienced “relentless threats to my physical safety and life.”

“We are fully cooperating in this investigation, and I would like to take this opportunity to outline the facts and the truth,” she wrote. “Since before I was sworn into office, I have endured relentless threats to my physical safety and life. As a rank-and-file member of Congress I am not entitled to personal protection by the House, and instead have used campaign funds as permissible to retain security services. I have not used any federal tax dollars for personal security services. Any reporting that I have used federal funds for personal security is simply false.”

Despite these controversies, Bush and Bowman are seen as viable candidates. Bush in particular bested longtime representative William Lacy Clay in the state’s 1st Congressional District in 2020 in what was seen as a major upset echoing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) surprise win over then-Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y) in 2018.

Allies of the two embattled progressives maintain that they’re in a strong position, even with their controversial stances on the conflict in the Middle East.

“Progressive incumbents bringing in record grassroots fundraising hauls this quarter shows just how aligned they are with the majority of Democratic voters who want a ceasefire in Gaza and oppose the far-right Israeli government’s massacre of the Palestinian people,” said Usamah Andrabi, the communications director for Justice Democrats.

Andrabi said that the Squad “represents the voice of the Democratic Party’s core base,” but that special interest groups, including AIPAC’s Super PAC, are contributing by using funds from donors who have some of “the same Republican billionaire mega donors that bankroll Donald Trump and Nikki Haley and spending it against incumbents in Democratic primaries.”

Even some moderates concede that defeating Bush and Bowman will not be easy. Beating an incumbent is typically a costly and longshot endeavor, and their successful prior elections prove they have popular support within their districts.

“Nobody should be mistaken, beating them is not an easy task. But it’s certainly in the realm of possibility,” Melman said. “It makes sense to focus on the people that you can beat.”

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