Progressive Jamaal Bowman defeats House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel in Democratic primary

Engel had been endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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By Dareh Gregorian and Sahil Kapur

Jamaal Bowman, a progressive candidate running in his first political campaign, has defeated longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in the New York Democratic primary.

Bowman’s victory over Engel in New York’s 16th Congressional District is a mirror image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset win over longtime Rep. Joe Crowley in the 14th district in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Bowman over Engel before the June 23 primary.

"I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project," Bowman tweeted after the Associated Press projected Friday that he'd won the race. "That story doesn’t usually end in Congress. But today, that 11-year-old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next Representative."

Engel conceded a short time later. "The numbers are clear, and I will not be the Democratic nominee for the 16th Congressional District seat in the fall election," he said in a statement.

"Serving the people of the Bronx and Westchester in Congress has been the greatest privilege of my life, and what a remarkable 32 years it has been," he said.

"I wish Mr. Bowman well as he begins this new chapter in his life," Engel added.

Bowman, a 44-year-old father of three, centered his campaign on racial injustice and human rights.

“Coming into the campaign, we felt that structural racism, institutional racism, institutional classism, institutional sexism and militarism are the evils that continue to plague American society generally," he told NBC News last month.

The win is a major victory for the progressive wing of the party. Bowman, who resigned as the principal of a middle school in the Bronx to focus full time on his race, was endorsed by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as well as Ocasio-Cortez.

His victory comes as Ocasio-Cortez routed a Democratic challenger, and insurgent candidate Suraj Patel is running neck-and-neck with House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. The races suggest a growing power of young and diverse progressives in the New York City metropolitan area, even as the left has lost primaries elsewhere.

Bowman was recruited by the liberal activist group Justice Democrats in a contest that was initially seen as a long shot for Engel's challenger.

Engel, a New York congressman since 1989, was backed by former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Bowman had been leading in the vote count since the night of the June 23 primary, but a surge in absentee voting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a delay in the final results. Under New York state law, absentee votes can't begin to be counted until one week after the primary.

The 16th district covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester County and is heavily Democratic, making Bowman a strong favorite to win the general election this fall. There's no Republican candidate running. Bowman will face off against a single challenger, Conservative Party candidate Patrick McManus, in November.

The campaign of Engel, 73, spiraled downward amid a series of unforced errors in the final six weeks before the primary.

It began with an article in The Atlantic revealing that Engel's campaign had created the impression that he was participating in events at home during the coronavirus pandemic while he was actually living in his Washington-area home. In early June, he had a hot mic moment indicating that he wanted to speak at event just to ward off a political threat.

"If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care," he said in a comment that was picked up by a TV microphone.

Bowman's victory comes as Ocasio-Cortez routed a Democratic challenger and insurgent Suraj Patel runs neck-and-neck with House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. The races suggest a growing power of young and diverse progressives in the New York City metropolitan area, even as the left has lost primaries elsewhere.

Bowman was recruited by the left-leaning activist group Justice Democrats in a contest that was initially seen as a long shot for Engel's challenger.

In a tweet Friday, the group hailed Bowman’s win. “The Squad is here to stay — and it's growing,” the tweet said.