Aug 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

In New York free-for-all, progressive insurgents vie to be next AOC

Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler and Suraj Patel
Debate featuring Maloney, Nadler and Patel on Tuesday night. Screenshot: Spectrum News NY1

Three of the House's highest-ranking Democrats — Reps. Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York — are fending off progressive insurgents hoping to force the generational change that party leadership has promised.

Why it matters: The 2022 midterms could become the third cycle in a row that a powerful party elder in New York is upset by a younger challenger running to their left.

  • In 2018 it was Rep. Joe Crowley, then-chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a bartender and community organizer who's now a national progressive star.
  • Two years later, former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel was caught flatfooted by Jamaal Bowman, an educator and close ally of Ocasio-Cortez.

Driving the news: Suraj Patel, a 38-year-old lawyer and self-described "Obama Democrat," is hoping to take out not one, but two incumbents whose districts were combined into New York's 12th: Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee.

  • Patel came within four points of beating Rep. Maloney in 2020, which was a significant improvement from the first time he challenged her in 2018.
  • In New York's 17th district, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney — chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — is up against state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, 36, who won her current seat by taking out an incumbent.

The intrigue: At a debate Tuesday night, Patel was the only candidate to say President Biden should run for re-election. Nadler dismissed the question as a distraction, while Carolyn Maloney said she didn't believe Biden would run in 2024.

  • "The fact of the matter is they think maybe they can pull younger voters away from me by throwing their president under the bus. It's the exact type of triangulation that gets Democrats in the firing squad at all times," Patel said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday.
  • Maloney later cleaned up her comments on Twitter, saying she would "absolutely" support Biden if he runs.

What they're saying: "This generational change moment isn’t about age; it’s about urgency," Patel told Axios. "Voters tell me all they time they want someone to acknowledge the challenges we're facing."

  • "The Republicans of today are crazy, but we’ve got Democrats playing off a playbook from 1992 or 1989," Patel continued. "We’ve still got Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney standing up there with an easel trying to talk to the American people."
  • Biaggi told Axios the incumbent-killer playbook is built on actually being in the community.
  • "You have to be able to knock on people's doors and make those phone calls and hold those town halls," she said. "Show you're going to do whatever it takes."

The big picture: A recent Axios analysis found progressives are, by about 2-to-1, losing to moderates in Democratic primaries nationwide. But New York has a history of replacing longtime incumbents with more liberal newcomers.

Between the lines: Although these long-shot challengers are running to the left of the incumbents, don't expect Patel or Biaggi to align themselves exclusively with the Squad.

  • "I would describe myself as a progressive with an independent spirit," said Biaggi, who's earned support from Ocasio-Cortez and activist groups like the Sunrise Movement and Working Families Party.
  • "I don't identify with all the policies of Squad, nor do I identify with all the policies of the Problem Solvers caucus," Patel told Axios. "But nothing is stopping you from being at every single table, and that's something I've considered doing if I win."

The other side: Nadler and Carolyn Maloney told Axios they don't see Patel as a threat.

  • Sean Maloney also argued the forces that boosted Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman were "cresting" by 2020, and now "it's pretty clear the energy on the socialist left has been decreasing, not growing."
  • Crowley, who visited the Capitol last week and stopped to chat with his "good friend" Sean Maloney, shared with Axios his takeaway from losing in 2018: "Run like it’s the toughest-ever election."

By the numbers: Polls continue to suggest that Democratic voters are looking for new types of party leaders.

  • A Siena College/NYT poll found 94% of Democrats under 30 want an alternative to Biden in 2024.

Don't forget: After Democrats won big in the 2018 midterms, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to step aside by the 2022 midterms — calling herself "a bridge to the next generation of leaders."

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