Could a Homophobic Conservative Democrat Win Next Door to AOC? – The American Prospect

Posted By on June 9, 2020

New Yorks long-postponed primary elections are now just two weeks away. And while June 23 will no longer carry presidential intrigue, there are a number of important congressional races that could play a meaningful role in shaping the Democratic Partys orientation in the House next year.

Though progressives lost some momentum with the stalling-out of the Sanders campaign, the most recent batch of primaries, in states like New Mexico and Pennsylvania, have seen them notch significant wins at the state and local level. In New Mexico, a five-woman coalition dubbed No Corporate Democrats ran against centrist incumbents in the state Senate, with four triumphing, and another non-coalition progressive bested an anti-choice incumbent; DSA candidates in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., won seats in the state senate and city council, respectively.

Its possible that trend could continue in a handful of tight races in New York City, where progressive challengers in multiple districts, once thought to be lagging behind establishment favorites and centrist incumbents, have seen surges in polling and fundraising, and bagged high-profile endorsements.

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In NY-16, a district that spans parts of the Bronx and Westchester, Eliot Engel, a 16-term incumbent and defense industry favorite who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, all of a sudden finds himself on the ropes. As I wrote last week, progressive former school principal Jamaal Bowman has seen a major fundraising surge, and secured the endorsement of progressive groups and local electeds, including fellow New York City Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, in a stunning rebuke of Engel, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who renounced her prior endorsement of the incumbent.

In NY-17, which encompasses suburban Rockland and Westchester Counties just beyond New York City proper, progressive Mondaire Jones is in a heated contest with notorious conservative David Carlucci for the vacant seat of outgoing Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Carlucci is a former state senator who built his political reputation by helping found and maintain the Independent Democratic Conference, a political alliance that succeeded in keeping the New York State Senate under GOP control for almost a decade, despite having a Democratic majority. According to recent polling, Carlucci is holding onto a narrow lead in the solidly Democratic district, benefiting from name recognition and a large field. In recent days, however, Jones has secured the endorsements of multiple members of the Squad, both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, as well as California Rep. Barbara Lee and Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). The array of high-profile national progressives may give Jones the edge in the final days.

But in the 15th Congressional District, the situation is far less rosy. Current congressman Jos Serrano is retiring, and a muddled open-seat primary has conspired to divvy up the progressive vote share among multiple hopefuls, much to the delight of an unapologetically conservative candidate, Ruben Diaz Sr. If he were to win, Diaz would quickly become one of, if not the most, conservative Democrats in the House.

To get a sense of how disastrous that outcome would be, its important to understand the demographic makeup of NY-15, located in the Bronx. NY-15s portion of the Bronx has the nations highest overall poverty rate (41 percent), the highest child poverty rate (53 percent), and the second-highest poverty rate for residents over 65 (33 percent). It has a Hispanic plurality and a large black population, and according to some, is the most safely Democratic district in the entire country. The Cook Partisan Voter index had it as D+44 in 2018. The district gave Hillary Clinton a 94 percent vote share in 2016.

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That means that NY-15 is the safest of all Democratic safe seats, an excellent opportunity for a strong progressive to take over and become a powerful voice in Congress, like its neighboring representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whoever wins the Democratic primary is a near-certainty to triumph in the general.

All of that makes Ruben Diaz Sr.s place at the front of the pack even more alarming. And Diaz, currently a city councilmember in New York, is not merely some milquetoast corporate henchman: He has proudly distinguished himself as a conservative Democrat, the kind that has no voice in Washington, and the opposite of AOC. He is an outspoken opponent of abortion, once drawing the ire of the Anti-Defamation League by comparing abortion to the Holocaust, and an equally avowed adversary of same-sex marriage (today! in 2020!).

Diaz has led rallies against same-sex marriage in the Bronx, once equated being gay to bestiality, and championed legislation to ban gay marriage on multiple occasions. He referred to the New York City Council as being controlled by the homosexual community, which resulted in him being stripped of his committee chairmanship, last year. He even claimed that stem cell research was worse than Hitler, and campaigned for Ted Cruz in 2016. Its not as if hes an ascendant political force: Diaz Sr. is 77 years old. Oh yeah, hes even been endorsed by the NYPD union.

Diazs surprisingly robust vote share could prove to be a serious road bump for a progressive wing in New York that is yet again on the rise.

Part of the problem is a crowded progressive field, where some of the long shots have refused to bow out. The race in NY-16 heated up in earnest when one progressive, Andom Ghebreghiorgis, bowed out and endorsed Bowman, his progressive rival. But no such action has occurred in District 15 yet. A poll conducted recently by Data for Progress found Diaz Sr. leading the field with 22 percent, followed by left-wing city councilman Ritchie Torres at 20 percent.

But Torres, unlike Mondaire Jones, does not seem likely to be pushed over the edge by star-studded progressive endorsements. Torres, a queer Latino, has brought in fairly impressive fundraising numbers but little enthusiasm, as he has chosen to ally himself with mainstream Democrats over the citys potent progressive wing. Accordingly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Samelys Lpez, a friend she met while volunteering for Bernie Sanders in 2016, as has the Working Families Party. But Lpez has struggled to raise money or garner attention; despite the high-profile seal of approval, she clocked in at just 2 percent in that same poll. Community organizer Tomas Ramos and nonprofit director Jonathan Ortiz, both progressives, remain in the race as well.

That poll should serve as a shock for New York liberals who werent taking Diazs candidacy seriously, thinking theres no way such a conservative candidate could triumph in a uniformly liberal district. But with just two weeks to go, that seems like an acute possibility.

Of course, if Diaz does succeed, there may be one final way to contest him in November. The Working Families Party, a powerful third-party entity in New York that has made its reputation by operating in situations like these, could put Lpez, its endorsee, on the general-election ballot as its own third-party candidate. From there, she could compete against Diaz, in this case the Democratic nominee, and whoever the lame-duck Republican candidate is, if there is one at all. Angling for that situation would be risky, and likely deliver a victory to Diaz regardless. An email to the Working Families Party about this possibility went unreturned.

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Diazs surprisingly robust vote share could prove to be a serious road bump for a progressive wing in New York that is yet again on the rise, and could be primed to add a handful of progressive newcomers to the ranks of the Squad. A victory for Torres would not aid much in that goal, though the national media has generously referred to him as a progressive at times. But it could prevent a growing progressive caucus from taking on a vocal new opponent on their own side of the aisle.

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Could a Homophobic Conservative Democrat Win Next Door to AOC? - The American Prospect

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