November 05, 2023

Josh Kraushaar here. Thanks for joining Sunday Sneak Peek, our weekly look ahead at the forces shaping American politics.

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1 big thing: Squad under fire in primaries

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

At least four House Democrats affiliated with the left-wing "Squad" faction are facing serious primary threats next year, fueled by their vocal criticism of Israel's war against Hamas in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

Why it matters: These primaries, pitting the most progressive lawmakers against more traditional liberals, will offer a clear test of the ideological direction of the Democratic Party.

  • They're also a barometer of how much space there is within the party for hostility toward Israel in the aftermath of the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust.
  • Progressives, especially younger ones, have grown increasingly critical of Israel in recent years. But polls in the first few weeks after Oct. 7 indicated a spike in Democratic support for the Jewish state.

Context: The initial Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack killed more than 1,400 people inside Israel. According to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in nearly a month of war.

  • Biden officials are pushing for "humanitarian pauses" in the fighting to allow more aid to flow. Israel's government hasn't allowed a temporary cease-fire unless Hamas frees the hundreds of hostages it kidnapped.

Driving the news: The four Democratic lawmakers facing competition from the party's center are Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

  • Bush was the latest one to draw a credible challenger — St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell. In his campaign announcement this past week, he criticized her anti-Israel stance.
  • Bush, in a tweet last Sunday, accused Israel of committing "ethnic cleansing" in its ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza. Her remarks were criticized by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
  • Bush's St. Louis-area district is home to the largest Jewish community in Missouri.

What's next: Pro-Israel groups are signaling that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a Palestinian American who has accused President Biden of supporting genocide in Gaza through his backing of Israel, also will face a primary challenge in 2024.

Go deeper: The Squad-affiliated lawmaker facing the biggest threat is Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), whose political troubles were compounded after he pleaded guilty to setting off a false fire alarm in a House office building.

  • Bowman's district, centered in Westchester County, New York, has one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the country — alongside a nonwhite majority electorate. The New York Times reported he spoke at an anti-Zionist rally calling for a cease-fire, but hasn't visited a synagogue in his district since the attack.
  • Longtime Westchester County executive George Latimer, a more-moderate Democrat, is seriously considering a campaign.

Between the lines: In previous primaries pitting pro-Israel Democrats against critics of Israel, foreign policy wasn't the explicit issue being debated. That's different now.

  • Bell told The Washington Post that the reason he decided to challenge Bush — after originally running for the Senate — was Bush's stance on Israel.
  • Borough councilor Bhavini Patel, Lee's Democratic challenger, told The New York Times that Lee's "equivocation" on supporting Israel has repeatedly come up in conversations with voters. Lee has called Israel's response to the Hamas terrorist attack a "genocide of innocent Gazans."

Zoom in: In 2022, Omar was the only Squad-affiliated lawmaker to face a serious primary scare. She narrowly won her primary against former Minneapolis city councilman Don Samuels, who is planning to run again.

By the numbers: Only nine House Democrats voted against a bipartisan pro-Israel resolution last week that condemned Hamas, and another six voted present. The resolution passed 412-10.

The bottom line: In recent years, we've seen a proliferation of more extreme views within both parties, with party leaders largely unable to crack down against the ideologically driven rebels.

  • If more-moderate Democrats end up ousting several of the most far-left members in the Democratic caucus, it would be an atypical development that shows there's still a political constituency for the mainstream majority.

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2. 📺 Spot of the week: Targeting Tlaib

Screenshot: Democratic Majority for Israel PAC ad

The Democratic Majority for Israel PAC went up with its first ad of the 2024 election, hitting Tlaib for her criticism of Israel.

Why it matters: It's the first paid advertising by the pro-Israel group this cycle.

  • Pro-Israel groups, such as DMFI and AIPAC, have generally steered clear from taking on incumbents, preferring to spend money in open Democratic primaries.
  • The early spending against Tlaib indicates that pro-Israel groups believe she's potentially vulnerable in a Democratic primary, even though no one has stepped up yet to challenge her.

Notable quotable: The ad points out Tlaib was one of just nine Democrats to vote against condemning Hamas for the Oct. 7 terror attack and suggests that legislation Tlaib has put forward will "allow the terrorists to re-arm themselves" — a reference to her support for a cease-fire.

  • The ad ends: "Tell Rashida Tlaib she's on the wrong side of history and humanity."

What they're saying: Tlaib released a video on Friday accusing President Biden of supporting genocide.

  • "Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people. The American people won't forget. Biden, support a cease-fire now or don't count on us in 2024," reads the text at the end of the video.
  • The ad features footage of a pro-Palestinian protest in Michigan featuring rallygoers chanting "from the river to the sea!" The slogan is a call for a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with control of all of Israel's territory.
  • Michigan's Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who has defended Tlaib in the past, called the congresswoman's remarks "indefensible" and asked her to "retract this cruel and hateful remark."

Go deeper: DMFI's PAC isn't the only outside Democratic group looking to oust Tlaib.

3. 🚨 Poll of the week: Biden's battleground blues

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new slate of battleground-state polls commissioned by the New York Times shows that President Biden is trailing former President Trump in five of the six most competitive swing states.

Why it matters: The NYT/Siena poll shows Biden's anti-Trump coalition from 2020 is falling apart, driven by concerns about the president's age and widespread worries over the economy.

Between the lines: The poll also shows Trump making significant inroads with non-white voters in the six battleground states.

  • "In a remarkable sign of a gradual racial realignment between the two parties, the more diverse the swing state, the farther Mr. Biden was behind, and he led only in the whitest of the six," the New York Times wrote.
  • The polling involved 3,662 registered voters in the six states from Oct. 22 to Nov. 3. Methodology can be found here.

By the numbers: Overall, Trump leads Biden 48%-44% in the six battleground states.

  • But among Hispanics, Biden only leads by 8 points (50%-42%). Meanwhile, Trump wins nearly a quarter of the Black vote in these states (71%-22%), a historic level of GOP support in the modern political era.
  • Among the youngest voters aged 18-29, Biden leads by just 1 point (47%-46%). He performs best among the oldest voters (65+), where he's tied with Trump at 46%.
  • Biden is leading Trump in the suburbs by just 3 points (48%-45%), while only winning urban voters by 15 points (53-38%).

The bottom line: Biden's political problems are largely a result of his advanced age. Put simply, voters don't think a president who will be 82 years old next year should be running for a second term.

  • 71% of the swing-state respondents think he's too old to be president (only 39% say the same about Trump).
  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) say he doesn't have the mental sharpness to be president (44% say the same about Trump).
  • A generic Democratic candidate would lead Trump by 8 points (48%-40%). Even Vice President Kamala Harris would perform slightly better than Biden, losing to Trump by 3 points (47%-44%).

4. 🗳️ Read of the week: Election Day 2023

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

"Biden and abortion are on the ballot. The question is which matters more" (NBC News)

Why it matters: Abortion rights groups are trying to stretch their winning streak in three states (Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia) on Election Day 2023 this Tuesday.

In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to turn the state legislature blue by taking advantage of GOP candidates' support for Gov. Glenn Youngkin's proposed 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

  • Republicans maintain that polling shows widespread support for a 15-week ban. But voters across the country have rejected efforts to impose stricter abortion regulations after the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. (Virginia currently restricts abortion at 26 weeks.)

In Ohio, Democrats are rallying behind a ballot measure (Issue 1) that would create a constitutional right to an abortion.

  • What makes this referendum unpredictable is that abortion rights advocates are playing offense — not defense, as has been the case in recent elections — by seeking to overturn some of the state's current abortion restrictions.

In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has campaigned against the GOP-controlled legislature's passage of one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country in his race against Republican Daniel Cameron.

  • Cameron later came out in support of amending the state law to allow for additional exceptions.
  • A Beshear victory in a solidly-Republican state would demonstrate that moderation and political likability still matter — especially in governor's races less tied to polarizing national issues.

Thanks for starting your week with us. This newsletter was copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.