As party leaders grow older, progressive black democrats act

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Longing for change, a group of progressive black democratic congress hopes rush to the national stage, sparking enthusiasm in a party dominated by dominant white leaders.

Charles Booker, 35, a first-term Kentucky state legislator who grew up poor, is fighting for a Senate nomination against a rival who has outraged him 40 to 1 with the support of national democratic leaders. There’s also Jamaal Bowman, 44, an educator and political novice looking for a convention seat in New York to overthrow the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is endorsed by Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

She and others were featured in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in New York, Kentucky and Virginia, and it remains unclear how many of them will win. But the message of the day was clear: a new set of candidates of color wants to join Congress and send Democrats to the left, even as presumed presidential candidate Joe Biden takes a more centrist course to lure moderate voters in November.

“The leadership of the party should catch up with public opinion, which is largely progressive,” said Mondaire Jones, who is fighting for a vacant seat from a tony district in the northern suburbs of New York City.

Jones said in an interview that he enthusiastically supports Biden, but the former vice president must “develop a vision of America more progressive than what he has outlined” if he is to encourage liberal voters.

“The world has changed,” Bowman said in a statement. “Congress must also change.”

Since election officials count boatloads of mail-in ballots caused by the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press has not announced winners in many primaries. But one victor was Cameron Webb, a black physician and lawyer who defeated three white rivals in a central Virginia district.

Tuesday’s primaries took place in a Democratic Party whose presidential candidate, Biden, is 77. Pelosi is 80 and the minority leader in Senate Chuck Schumer is 69. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic, socialist and progressive leader who made his bid for this year’s presidential nomination at 78.

But another hero from the left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., is only 30. And in an indication of the party’s sensitivities, Biden has already said he will choose a woman as his vice-presidential running mate, and he is under pressure to Person of color.

Booker, Bowman and Jones have been spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement and the nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month. Their strong campaigns have highlighted that candidates who can take advantage of that movement may be able to translate their energy into voices of African Americans and white progressives.

But she and others say their appeal goes beyond race. For example, each has supported the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All” proposals dear to progressive voters.

Sean McElwee, a political analyst for forward-thinking candidates, says liberal millennials are entering the era of people voting more often. Of course, that is delivering increasingly successful progressive candidates, especially people of color, who can appeal to liberal and minority voters, he said.

“We’re a little over” white male progressive candidates, McElwee said.

Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the progressive Working Families Party in New York, said candidates of color are also becoming more attractive because of their authenticity.

“They have had experiences,” said Nnaemeka. “No translation is needed for Jamaal Bowman to talk about the crisis of police brutality.” Bowman, who is 16-year-old veteran Rep. Eliot challenges Engel in a district that covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester County grew up in public housing in New York.

Many moderates dispute that the Democratic Party is increasingly controlled by progressives and that black voters inevitably turn left.

They note that moderate Biden resolutely endorsed the presidential nomination over Sanders with lopsided support from African-American voters. They say the dozens of Democratic freshmen were elected in 2018, putting them in control of the home, including centrist lawmakers of color such as representatives Colin Allred, D-Texas, and Xochitl Torres Small, DN.M.

“A new generation is coming that is very diverse,” said Jim Kessler, an executive vice president of the centrist Democratic group Third Way. “But it would be a mistake to say that the next generation only represents the far left of the party.”

According to AP VoteCast, a poll of voters, about 2 in 10 people who voted for democratic candidates in 2018 were black and about 1 in 10 were Spanish. About half identified as liberal, including 2 in 10 who said they were very liberal, while most others were moderate.

Booker is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in Kentucky against former naval combat pilot Amy McGrath. Schumer has backed the centrist as his party’s best chance to defeat Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., In the GOP-heavy state.

Other candidates for color-seeking Democratic congressional nominations included Ritchie Torres, a New York City councilor running for a seat in a diverse Bronx neighborhood. Suraj Patel is a businessman who is the 14-year-old Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York City tries to drive out.

Former Representative Steven Israel, DN.Y., who led the House Democrats campaign committee, largely attributed the energy of the progressives to the party’s antipathy to President Donald Trump.

“I do not endorse the argument that a day of primaries determines the national vote,” said Israel. “But it is clear that something is happening, and a new, aggressive generation of activists is impacting the Democratic Party.”


Associated Press writers Alan Suderman in Richmond, Va., Karen Matthews in New York and Emily Swanson and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington contributed to this report.

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