Jamaal Bowman is a middle school principal in the Bronx who is on the precipice of a huge upset. Marie Newman and Kara Eastman had huge institutional support and had run before; on average, in competitive races, progressive Congressional candidates increase their margin by ~7.5% if they have already run for any office before. His candidacy is different. His upbeat personality has earned him media attention, but it’s really his outspoken leadership on the crucial issues of our time that have defined his candidacy. While incumbent Representative Eliot Engel has been a gaffe machine, Bowman has created a strong campaign with the help of the Justice Democrats. Bowman had a solid performance in the only debate of the cycle, and now has outside groups running ads against him to try to stop his momentum. Bowman has dominated the positive news cycle, and if he can capitalize on the last minute surge of cash he’s getting from waves of endorsements, he may be one of the success stories of 2020.
The 16th is home to the North Bronx, Yonkers, and other parts of Southern Westchester County. A safe Democratic district, the 16th has been dominated by warhawk Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel has served in Congress since 1989 and is a moderate Democrat who is more in line with Joe Biden than even Barack Obama.
The district is older than the national average at 40.6 years. Black and Brown voters will cast the majority of ballots in this district, and according to a recent poll, that’s where Bowman’s strength is. The district, according to CityLab, has about 95% medium/high density; that’s almost as dense as Eliot Engel’s moustache! In reality though, this is very good news for Bowman. The vast majority of Progressive Caucus members come from dense districts; only 1 member of Congressional Progressive Caucus leadership comes from a district with less than 50% medium/high density.
Is Jamaal Bowman “The Next AOC?”
Bowman is comparable to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in certain ways. They’re both people of color running against white men who have been in office for decades. Both their districts have high density and large Black and Brown populations. They’re both from New York City and the Establishment has rallied around their opponents. Crowley was well-funded, as is Engel, each with over 2 million dollars at the time of the primary. Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez differ the most in their own fundraising and the attention on the races.
Bowman had about a million dollars at the pre-primary fundraising deadline, about double what AOC had. On top of that, Bowman is seeing an infusion of resources at the last minute, something Ocasio-Cortez never had. That tracks with the nature of the election. Nobody thought Ocasio-Cortez had any chance of beating Crowley and her victory was a shock. She had the support of progressive organizations but nowhere near the backing Bowman has (notably, Working Families Party endorsed Crowley and Bernie Sanders sat out the primary). Bowman has national attention and is following in the footsteps of people like Marie Newman, Morgan Harper, and Jessica Cisneros. Those races, that represent the 2020 Justice Democrats, are far closer to Bowman than the completely out of nowhere nature of Ocasio-Cortez’s win.
Bowman has consolidated the progressive lane entirely, garnering endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and a long list of organizations that help make up the movement. Justice Democrats is the main group behind Bowman, with their PAC spending guiding the way. The organization put out this ad with Jumaane Williams, a helpful counterbalance to this ad that was run by Democratic Majority for Israel. The high profile race has become another proxy battle in the cold war of Establishment versus Everyone Else.
Engel is a terrible representative and it’s important to note how positive it would be to remove him from his position in the Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel is a warhawk who sells cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia; you could make an argument that he’s more directly connected to international war crimes than almost all members of Congress. A vehement supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights, and Gaza, Engel has hit Bowman hard on his belief that Palestinians should have rights too. Engel helped lead the charge into Iraq, an American embarrassment that destroyed lives across the world. Engel’s close ties with the defense industry help us understand his motivation to support needless war and murder.
Oh also, Chris Fink is in this race, as is Sammy Ravelo. They’re both running on more moderate platforms and don’t have anywhere near the cash of Engel or Bowman. In the debate on NY1, Fink had a bad night and Ravelo wasn’t able to make it. I think it’s clear that these candidates have no shot at winning. Their presence is, in my opinion, the biggest wildcard in the race. If we see a surprising finish, something like Bowman 49, Engel 39, Fink 6, Ravelo 6, it would be pretty obvious that those Fink/Ravelo voters hurt Engel more. But in a closer race, it may not be obvious if either Bowman or Engel was helped or hurt by the smaller campaigns.
Bowman commissioned an internal poll that he recently released showing 41% for Bowman and 31% for Engel, with 27% undecided. A lot of those undecideds could come back to Engel, though with Justice Democrats and Bowman’s own campaign spamming ads over the airways and online, the name recognition gap might be narrowing. One major note from the poll: Bowman leads Engel 57% to 20% among non-white voters. Black and Latinx voters make up over half of the 50% of the population in the district so Bowman will need a strong night with those voters, given that he’s down 30% to 52% with white voters to Engel.
PredictIt, as of the release of this article, has Jamaal Bowman/Eliot Engel at about a 70/30 split. People are high on Bowman and have been since the release of the poll. If Engel has a good news cycle somehow, I expect those odds will go back to about 50/50.
-No major universities
+Engel has made several gaffes and mistakes throughout the campaign
Final Non-Scientific Prediction:
Chance of Victory: