Veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley’s (D-N.Y.) stunning defeat on Tuesday night rocked the political world, as progressive candidates stormed to victory in primaries held across the country.
Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus who was seen as a potential future Speaker, lost in a massive upset to progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old organizer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.
Other liberal candidates won primary challenges in top House and gubernatorial races. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who was endorsed by Sanders, won the Democratic primary in Maryland’s governor race. And activist Dana Balter won her House primary in upstate New York.
Those victories illustrate that voters have an appetite to buck the political establishment as progressives seek to move the Democratic Party farther to the left.
Meanwhile, President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE solidified his political clout, with wins from two incumbent lawmakers he backed: Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R).
Here are the most significant takeaways from Tuesday's primary contests.
With Crowley, Dems have their Cantor moment
Crowley’s surprise loss on Tuesday is the biggest prize the reform-minded Democrats who backed Sanders have claimed so far.
Crowley’s loss is as stunning as then-House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE’s (R-Va.) primary defeat in 2014 — maybe more so, because while Cantor spent his fateful primary hobnobbing in Washington, Crowley had taken his challenge more seriously, actively campaigning for his own seat in a borough where he still runs the Democratic machine.
But the result was the same: A member of Congress once poised for the Speakership is now out of a job.
Scheduling primary elections for federal contests separately from those for statewide office was supposed to mean a low-turnout affair that party bosses could control. It turned into a perfect opportunity for Sanders backers to score their biggest goal of the year — so far.
Crowley, 56, faced his first primary challenge in 14 years. He was seen as a potential successor to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' MORE (D-Calif.). And he had longtime roots in his deep-blue New York City district that include parts of Queens and the Bronx. He’s also chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party.
But Ocasio-Cortez’s victory shows that voters were itching for change in one of the most diverse districts in the country. Hispanics make up half of the 14th District’s population.
Ocasio-Cortez ran on the need for new representation, criticizing Crowley for living outside the district and for taking corporate donations.
The 28-year-old challenger gained some last-minute traction, especially after a viral campaign video in which she said the race was about “people versus money.” She garnered a number of progressive endorsements, including from Our Revolution, MoveOn.org and Justice Democrats.
Progressive Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Democrats call for oil company executives to testify on disinformation campaign Will the US emulate China's tech takedown? MORE (D-Calif.), who won his own primary challenge against an incumbent in 2016, issued a dual endorsement. He initially backed only Crowley, but walked it back after pressure from progressive circles on social media.
Progressives have a big night — not just in New York
Progressives — and Sanders allies — are taking victory laps in several other high-profile races in Tuesday’s multi-state primaries.
In Maryland’s Democratic primary for governor, Jealous — a first-time candidate — defeated Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker for the right to take on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in November.
Jealous touted his endorsements from national figures in the progressive movement, like Sanders and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate Florida woman faces five years in prison for threatening to kill Harris MORE (D-Calif.). Meanwhile, Baker had solidified support from local Democratic leaders like Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenBottom line Spendthrift Democrats ignore looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare Progressive pollster: 65 percent of likely voters would back polluters tax MORE, House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerGOP leader taking proxy voting fight to Supreme Court Lobbying world Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Feds target illegal gas practices MORE and former Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Sanders, who’s made few endorsements and campaign appearances this cycle, stumped alongside Jealous prior to the primary. Jealous backs many of Sanders’s core issues including “Medicare for all” legislation and a $15 minimum wage.
“Ben showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice,” Sanders said in a Tuesday night statement.
But Jealous will face a tough general election race against Hogan, who’s highly popular and has strong job approval ratings.
In New York’s 24th District, Balter cruised to victory in a race where local and national Democrats clashed over their preferred candidates to take on GOP Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoMcCarthy-allied fundraising group helps Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Bipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader Hillicon Valley — Industry groups want more time to report cybersecurity incidents MORE in a top swing seat.
Balter, a professor at Syracuse University and progressive activist, consolidated support from four local Democratic county committees. Balter was also backed by Our Revolution.
But weeks out from the filing deadline, national Democrats made a last-minute recruitment that irked local activists. They encourage former U.S. Navy officer and prosecutor Juanita Perez Williams to jump into the race.
National Democrats have waded into a number of high-profile primaries where they worked to get a candidate through that they believe would be stronger in the general election.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) added Perez Williams to its program that provides financial and organizational support to candidates.
While Balter and Perez Williams didn’t differ on many issues, local Democratic leaders accused the DCCC of meddling in its primary.
But national Democrats did get their preferred pick through a primary in a top race in Colorado. Army veteran Jason Crow defeated Levi Tillemann, who worked in the Department of Energy during the Obama administration.
LGBT candidates continue to shine
In 2004, the first governor in American history to tell his constituents he was gay did so in a speech announcing his resignation, using carefully poll-tested language.
A decade and a half later, LGBT candidates have made enormous strides. On Tuesday, Rep. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado Gov. Jared Polis makes history marrying long-time partner Marlon Reis Biden expresses confidence on climate in renewable energy visit Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE (D) won the Democratic nomination for governor of Colorado, becoming the third member of the LGBT community to win a gubernatorial nomination so far this year.
Polis joins Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), the first bisexual person to serve as governor, and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez (D), who faces an uphill battle against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in November.
Their wins do not mean LGBT members are equally represented in government by any means — only seven members of Congress are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and only one transgender woman has ever won election to a state legislature.
But it is a sign that — especially in a state like Colorado, where progressive Democrats compete with libertarian-minded Republicans — being gay is no longer a deal-breaker for voters.
In fact Polis's biggest hurdle come November won't be the fact that he is gay — it will be convincing voters to back his unabashedly progressive agenda. Polis supports “Medicare for all,” universal pre-K and slowly transitioning Colorado — a state with plenty of oil and gas business — to all-renewable energy.
But Polis will have plenty of opportunity to pitch himself to voters: Before his public service career, he built a massive fortune by running several internet startups. He has already spent $10 million of that fortune on his race for governor.
Trump flexes his muscles in primaries
Progressives weren’t the only ones who had a banner night. Trump also won big by helping to shepherd McMaster and Donovan through their respective primaries.
In one of the most bitter primary battles of the cycle, Donovan trounced former GOP Rep. Michael Grimm in the Staten Island primary. Grimm was looking to make a political comeback after serving an eight-month prison sentence for tax fraud.
Trump took center stage in New York’s 11th District primary, where the two Republicans battled over their loyalty to the president. Grimm sought to fashion himself as a fierce ally of the president, arguing that Donovan doesn’t support Trump since he voted against the GOP’s tax overhaul.
But Donovan earned a critical endorsement from Trump, who warned that backing Grimm could lead to another Alabama, where Republicans last year ceded a winnable race to Democrats. And in the final days of the race, Donovan got reinforcements from the White House, including Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpHow Trump uses fundraising emails to remain undisputed leader of the GOP Donald Trump Jr. joins Cameo Book claims Trump family members were 'inappropriately' close with Secret Service agents MORE and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who’s now Trump’s personal lawyer.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, McMaster also won his GOP primary runoff against businessman John Warren. McMaster faced three well-funded challengers in a primary earlier this month but failed to avert a runoff, which triggered Tuesday’s race.
Trump made a last-minute swing through South Carolina on the eve of Tuesday’s primary on behalf of McMaster, who was the first statewide official to back Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary.
Trump has had mixed results when it comes to endorsements this year.
The president has been able to take down Republicans who don’t show unequivocal loyalty. He railed against Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordMark Sanford calls Graham 'a canary in the coalmine' on GOP's relationship with Trump Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (R-S.C.), an outspoken critic of the president who lost in a primary earlier this month.
And several lawmakers who have voiced opposition to Trump — Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) — have decided to retire.
But some candidates who earned Trump’s backing still couldn’t convince his voters to get behind them.
In Alabama, Trump got behind Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE (R), who lost a primary runoff to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE. The president went on to endorse Moore in the general election, but Moore fell short to now-Sen. Doug Jones in a big political upset for Democrats.
And in Pennsylvania’s high-profile special election in March, Republican Rick Saccone lost in a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016, despite the president holding a rally.