Squad scores with Summer Lee win, but faces a long primary calendar

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun18,2024

Rep. Summer Lee’s primary victory over a more moderate Democrat in Pennsylvania this week offered a jolt of momentum for progressives and dialed up the urgency for those targeting the “Squad.”

It was a promising result for fellow Squad members, especially Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) and Cori Bush (Mo.), who are both trying to fend off formidable primary threats of their own amid an influx of spending by pro-Israel groups looking to topple them.

“I expect we’re going to see a doubling down on some of the races they’ve already invested in,” Matt Duss, a former senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said of organizations intending to oust the Squad. “And we’re going to see progressives doubling down to defend.” 

The Israel-Hamas war has highlighted significant divides within the Democratic Party as progressives demand a cease-fire and criticize both Israel and the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis.

Lee, one of the first lawmakers to call for a cease-fire, fended off a challenge on Tuesday from Edgewood Councilmember Bhavini Patel with an edge of roughly 20 points, according to Decision Desk HQ. Patel, a more moderate Democrat who accused Lee of antisemitism, was backed by billionaire GOP donor Jeffrey Yass, but Lee had amassed a sizeable war chest. 

“It is a clear indication that progressives who can put together significant money and significant ground operations can win races against almost anybody,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, arguing Lee’s win stokes “urgency” and “intensity” for “those who want to keep the Squad going.” 

“The question then becomes … is the campaign in Pittsburgh an indication of where this is going to go? It’s one instance,” Sheinkopf said. 

Progressives should see Lee’s primary win in Pennsylvania as “a good sign heading into elections,” said Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins. “If you’re Bowman, you’re feeling a lot better the day after the [primary] election than you were the day before.” 

But while Lee’s win is an overall boost for liberals, it’s no guarantee that her fellow Squad members will coast to victory. 

“One win or one loss does not signal a trend,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau. “Each of the Squad’s districts are different. Summer Lee’s district is nothing like AOC’s district, and it’s nothing like Cori Bush’s district, and so on and so forth.” 

Notably, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an top pro-Israel group, didn’t wade into Lee’s primary race this year – though it invested heavily to back her Republican rival when she first ran for the seat back in 2022. 

The group has endorsed challengers in key Squad races and reportedly plans to spend $100 million to target progressive candidates. The United Democracy Project, AIPAC’s super PAC, raised more than $49 million in the first quarter of this year, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. 

In New York’s 16th Congressional District, Bowman faces Westchester County Executive George Latimer, and in Missouri’s 1st, Bush is up against St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell. AIPAC is backing and contributing to both challengers. 

Extensive polling hasn’t been done on those races, but some results signal potential trouble for the progressive incumbents. One February survey conducted by a Republican firm showed Bush down 22 points. And a March survey conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman for the Democratic Majority for Israel showed Bowman down 17. 

AIPAC is also currently “evaluating other primary races involving detractors of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told The Hill in an email.

“We will be engaged in races where our involvement can have the greatest impact. The stakes are enormous in the upcoming election, and the voice of the pro-Israel movement will be heard,” Wittman said. 

The group has notably spent $4.6 million, filings show, to oppose Dave Min, whose campaign to replace Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in the House was backed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Min has reportedly been critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not called for a permanent cease-fire. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) also faces a primary challenge in Minneapolis, part of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, from moderate Democrat and former city council member Don Samuels, who she beat back in 2022 by just two points.

Omar was one of the original members of the Squad, while Lee and Bowman were later additions; the group is an informal label around roughly eight House progressives. 

Despite the energy behind those who would oust the Squad members, strategists underscored that it’s tough to beat incumbents. Sheinkopf noted that Bowman and Bush are both running in areas with significant minority communities. 

Lee made reference to her imperiled fellow progressives during her acceptance speech on Tuesday night. 

“I’m unapologetic when people say ‘are you in the Squad?’ Whatever, yes. Those are my people. … We got this victory here in Pittsburgh, but this is just the first step. This was the first race. So we gotta make sure that we have the same energy and we pick it up and we take it over to New York next,” Lee said. “And when we’re done with Jamaal Bowman, we’re heading over to St. Louis, where we’ll make sure … Cori Bush gets over the finish line.” 

A coalition of progressive groups launched “Reject AIPAC” last month, aimed at protecting targeted lawmakers. 

“After failing to find a candidate corrupt enough to run on their agenda, and seeing how connected Summer Lee is to the community, AIPAC stayed out of this election. Now, we’re ramping up to take on AIPAC in Jamaal Bowman’s race,” said Michelle Weindling, political director for the Sunrise Movement, one of the groups in that coalition. 

Bowman’s primary in New York will take place in mid-June, and Bush’s Missouri race will fall in early August. 

Foreign policy is often shrugged off in presidential cycles, but tensions around the war in Gaza and U.S. support for Israel appear poised to bleed into races up and down the ballot. 

President Biden has faced significant protest vote pushes and boycotts at the ballot box in several state primaries, making the war a political liability that could complicate his run in a tight rematch with former President Trump. 

The incumbent has also been interrupted at multiple campaign stops by pro-Palestinian protestors – some organized by the “Abandon Biden” movement, which hopes to punish the president by withholding votes on Election Day, even if it means clearing the way for Trump to take the Oval Office. 

“I think it’s true that foreign policy policy rarely plays a major role in elections or in voters’ decisions. But I do think this issue – the issue of Israel, Palestine, the issue of Palestinian rights and Gaza, especially – resonates because it’s seen as not just a foreign policy issue. It’s an issue of social and racial justice,” Duss said. 

“I think with the level of outrage we’re seeing … it’s really something that the party is going to have to contend with in a better way than they have up until now.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Squad scores with Summer Lee win, but faces a long primary calendar”
  1. It’s great to see Rep. Summer Lee’s primary win, it really energizes the progressive movement. The Squad members, including Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush, are facing tough challenges, but victories like this show that standing up for progressive values can make a difference.

  2. Rep. Summer Lee’s primary victory is a great sign for progressives. It shows that with a strong ground operation, candidates can overcome any challenge. This win will likely motivate other progressive members like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush to double down in defending their seats and pushing forward their agenda.

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