Primaries: Ocasio-Cortez secures nomination; McGrath holds early lead to take on McConnell

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands next to a campaign truck covered with her photos on Tuesday as she prepares to speak to the press on New York's primary election day. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

June 24 (UPI) — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez steamrolled her way to the Democratic nomination for New York’s District 14 as New York, Virginia and Kentucky held primary elections in congressional and local races on Tuesday.

Ocasio-Cortez — whose win over a veteran Democratic opponent in the 2018 primary ignited a progressive wave in the party — won over upstart challenger Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

With more than 74 percent of precincts reporting, Ocasio-Cortez secured 73 percent of the vote to Caruso-Cabrera’s 20 percent, the New York Post reported.

Though she was expected to win the nomination, Ocasio-Cortez’s performance against House hopeful and former CNBC anchor Caruso-Cabrera was to be viewed as a barometer to see if the public agreed with critics who say she spends too much time on national issues while neglecting her constituents in the Bronx borough of New York City.

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez said the victory was important to her as a rejection of those who dismissed her earlier win as a fluke.

“Our win was treated as an aberration, or [because] my opponent ‘didn’t try,'” she tweeted. “Tonight, we are proving that the people’s movement in NY isn’t an accident. It’s a mandate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont tweeted Ocasio-Cortez his congratulations.

“In less than two years, she has become a major leader in Congress on many important issues, and I look forward to continue working with her to achieve justice for all working people,” he said.

The primaries in Kentucky and New York were rescheduled from earlier dates due to the coronavirus pandemic. In-person voters were expected to face long lines due to distancing requirements and possible shortages of volunteers at polling locations.

With the Democratic presidential race decided in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden, the most closely watched contest is in Kentucky, where Democrats will choose between Amy McGrath and Charles Booker as the party’s Senate nominee.

With less than 10 percent of precincts reporting, McGrath held an early lead over Booker for the right to take on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is among President Donald Trump’s most powerful supporters.

Live trackers of the race by NBC and The Washington Post reported McGrath held 44 percent of the votes to Booker’s 39.6 percent.

McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who lost a close race for the House two years ago, has strong backing from the Democrat’s moderate wing and a large fundraising edge.

Once considered a cinch for the nomination, she now faces a strong challenge from Booker, a 35-year-old African-American freshman state legislator and social activist whose campaign has surged after the police-involved deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March and George Floyd in Minnesota in May. He has received endorsements from key progressive leaders, including Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Elections observers anticipated problems in the voting process after Kentucky officials reduced the number of in-person polling places from 3,700 to 170 due to health concerns, and both of their campaigns filed injunctions Tuesday night to keep at least one polling location open late.

However, Coline Lauderdale, Booker’s campaign manager, tweeted their motion was denied.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “Not in any one politician or official, because we know it’s hard to quickly create a new system amidst unprecedented circumstances. But we have to be honest: people who were trying to vote but stuck in traffic were turned away and sent home, because all of Louisville had to share a single polling station location.”

Both candidates took to Twitter to tell Kentuckians to stay in line. If you’re in line, they said, they will be allowed to vote.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said earlier in the day that they were projecting about 1.1 million primary votes or 32 percent of registered voters, and heralded the election as “a model for success in conducting an election during a pandemic.”

Some Democrats have said the move to reduce polling stations is likely to disenfranchise black voters in urban areas, where lines at the few remaining polling places were expected to be hours long.

Recent polling has shown a low approval rating for McConnell in his home state. However, similar numbers also preceded his re-election in 2014, when he won by more than 15 points.

In another test of progressive clout in New York, Democratic incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, a moderate with support from Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, was trailing well behind newcomer and high school principal Jamaal Bowman — who’s won endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez, Warren and other progressives.

With 91.5 percent of precincts reporting, Bowman held a strong lead of 60.9 percent for 21,851 votes to Engel’s 35.6 percent, or 12,769 votes.

Bowman told his supporters as he held his early lead that as they celebrate tonight they will not just be celebrating him but a movement “designed” to push back against systemic racism and oppression.

“Our movement is designed to restore that faith, to restore that hope, to bring back the belief in what is possible, to root our values in everything we do,” he said.

Due to the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of New York residents are voting by mail, which could bring delays in naming the winners that could stretch over several days.

In Virginia, a pair of freshman Democratic House members will see their Republican challengers determined in Tuesday’s primary.

Three GOP contenders vied for a chance in November to face first-term Rep. Elaine Luria with Scott Taylor, who held the seat for a single term before being unseated by Luria in 2018, winning the chance for a rematch. Both are U.S. Navy veterans in a district that includes Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval station.

Elsewhere in the state, a group of six Republican candidates are vying to face first-term Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who upset a Republican incumbent in 2018 as part of the Democratic “blue wave” that regained control of the U.S. House.


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