Biden beat Bernie but the battle between progressives and pragmatists still rages

Biden beat Bernie but the battle between progressives and pragmatists still rages

The battle between Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersFormer Sanders press secretary: 'Principal concern' of Biden appointments should be policy DeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump MORE is over but the fight between progressive and pragmatic Democrats still rages. While support for Medicare For All and the Green New Deal define the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the pragmatists favor the expansion of environmental protection and health insurance coverage in incremental steps. 

Primaries in New York and Kentucky this week will be true tests of strength between the two factions competing for control within the Democratic Party.

Biden prevailed against Sanders in the Democratic presidential race but candidates endorsed by the Vermont Senator pose major threats to mainstream Democrats in U.S. Senate primaries in Kentucky and in a closely contested primary for the House in the 16th congressional district in New York which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.


Both progressive candidates are turning up the heat in polls against candidates who were once strong frontrunners. The fuel that is propelling Jamaal Bowman in New York and Charles Booker in Kentucky includes strong pushes from progressive icons, hostility towards the political establishment, missteps by the early leaders, a surge in support for African American candidates in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a heightened sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The House Democratic primary race in New York pits Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelRep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Democrats elect Meeks as first Black Foreign Affairs chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, against Jamaal Bowman, a 44-year-old African American man and former middle school principal who grew up in poverty.

This is a heavy weight battle with Sanders, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration Disney chair says he would consider job in Biden administration if asked Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE and AOC in Bowman’s corner, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms Trump supporters could hand Senate control to Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) and former New York Senator Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE backing Engel.

Engel appeared safe on his way to a 17th term in the House until he was caught on a hot mic saying, “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”  

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say that “All politics is local” and Engel should have heeded his advice. He occupies a powerful position as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but he has left a vacuum locally, which Bowman has effectively filled. This could be a repeat of 2018 in New York’s 14th district, when an unknown Alexndria Ocasio Cortez came out of the dust to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyBiden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond Business groups breathe sigh of relief over prospect of divided government Ocasio-Cortez glides to reelection MORE, who was on the fast track to become Speaker of the House of Representatives.


A long-term incumbent in troubled times, like Engel, who plays the power game in Washington, D.C., at the expense of his own district, has a political life expectancy shorter than the statue of a Confederate general.

As a committee chair, he is a powerful insider but his reputation as an absentee representative, his opponent’s high-octane endorsements and racial turmoil created an opening that Bowman has effectively filled.

The same formula for success has led to a surge in support for African American state Rep. Charles Booker against former Marine combat veteran Amy McGrath in the contest to nominate an opponent to challenge Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (R-K.y.) in November.

McGrath raised a ton of early money and gained the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But the frontrunner stumbled out of the gate when she announced her support for the nomination of Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court sees new requests for religious COVID-19 carve-outs For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty COVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries MORE to the Supreme Court and then retracted her endorsement.

In the last few weeks, Booker has gained ground on McGrath and gained the endorsements of the progressive power trio, Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez.

Booker and Bowman both appear to have what President George Herbert Walker Bush once called the “Big Mo”. Recent polls indicate that Booker and Bowman are ahead of their opponents. 

Wins by both Bowman and Booker would have profound national implications.

Democrats are likely to maintain control of the House, but victories by progressives like Bowman will strengthen the hand of the progressive caucus against the pragmatic Democratic majority. The GOP is in danger of losing its majority in the Senate; should Booker win over McGrath and beat McConnell in November, it could move the new Democratic majority in the upper chamber to the left. There will be another battle next Tuesday between Democratic Senate pragmatists and progressives in Colorado, in which former Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats frustrated, GOP jubilant in Senate fight Chamber-endorsed Dems struggle on election night OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  MORE faces off against Andrew Romanoff in Colorado.

Primary victories by both African American candidates will showcase the power of Blacks in the Democratic Party and might ramp up the pressure on Biden to select an African American running mate. Victories by both candidates would also strengthen the hand of progressive Democrats as they deal with Biden for influence over his campaign, the party platform and his administration.

Finally, during a time of heightened racial tensions, there is a need for strong African American participation for the progressive movement to thrive. Biden beat the progressive icon, Sanders, for the Democratic presidential nomination because of the former vice president’s overwhelming support from Black primary voters.

An alliance between Black politicians — like Booker and Bowman — and the white liberals who supported Sanders is essential to the triumph of the progressive movement. 

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.