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Rep. Bowman is the first of the progressives known as 'the squad' to be defeated

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The most expensive U.S. House primary campaign ever came to an end this week. Democrat George Latimer was declared the winner in a district in suburban New York, becoming the first to defeat one of the progressive Congress members known as the Squad. In his victory over incumbent Jamaal Bowman, Latimer benefited from strong ties to the district he's currently serving as a county executive, but he was also helped by significant support from pro-Israel lobbyists, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. They objected to Bowman's criticisms of Israel, and most especially his sharp criticisms of Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza. Here's Bowman at a rally last Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMAAL BOWMAN: AIPAC is scared to death.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Cheering).

BOWMAN: That is why they are spending record amounts of money in this race.

MARTIN: So is there a message other Democrats are taking away from Bowman's defeat? We're going to ask Kristin Hawn. She's a Democratic strategist and partner in the firm ROKK Solutions, and she's with us now. Good morning.

KRISTIN HAWN: Good morning.

MARTIN: As a general rule, I just think it's important to know that it's hard to defeat incumbents - even early in their careers, as Jamaal Bowman was - so where did he go wrong?

HAWN: I think, you know, people are - there's a lot of attention being paid to the money that was spent in this race, and that's certainly a factor. However, you know, I think that others can take a lesson away from this race. You know, when you look at Latimer and how he ran his race, he took a more inclusive approach that seemed to resonate with his district - as opposed to Jamaal Bowman, who, you know, had - didn't - certainly didn't do himself any favors when, you know, he talked about reports of sexual violence by Hamas being propaganda, something which he apologized for later. Damage, I think, had been done, but also, you know, the more divisive political rhetoric that he was using I don't think is really resonating with voters this cycle.

MARTIN: You know, there is disagreement, as you pointed out, about whether AIPAC's spending is really what moved the needle in this race, and there's some polling that indicated that Bowman was trailing Latimer even before the heavy advertising barrage began, but do you think this race would have played out differently without the spending?

HAWN: I think, you know, the - it's - you've got the money in the race, but it's about how you use it, and it's always about the candidate in each individual district. Each individual district has, you know, a different makeup of constituents, and this is a very diverse constituency, and, you know, this divisive -like I said, this divisive political rhetoric - I think people are tired of it, so like you said, you know, I think that people are gravitating, particularly in this district, towards a more inclusive tone, and that was reflected, I think, in the outcome of this race.

MARTIN: It's interesting that though Bowman said that he felt that - Bowman expressed this, that Bowman said that he felt that Latimer's rhetoric toward the end of the race also veered into racist dog-whistling, where he said that, you know, he felt that Bowman, for example, was favoring, you know, certain constituencies over others. He felt that he had a, quote-unquote, "ethnic advantage," and that he - Bowman and others, frankly, like, you know, The Nation, a progressive outlet - felt that that was racist, too. I guess I'm sort of wondering whether there - what's the kind of the long-term effect of this? Is there an over - and those are the particularities of this race, but is there some message to Democrats elsewhere in the country that they can draw from this?

HAWN: Yeah. I mean, again, I think, you know, there - you know, I think you're talking a lot about identity politics. People are looking beyond this and looking at the individual - what are they talking about? How are they talking about how they want to serve their constituency? And, you know, when you have an incumbent candidate who spends a lot of time, you know, combating other people in the Democratic caucus, other people that may bring a different approach, I think voters want to see their elected officials come to Congress, work together to just - to best serve their constituencies - and again, that was reflected in the outcome of this race, and I think other candidates across the country should take a lesson, you know, and they should...

MARTIN: OK, 30 seconds for this. What about the presidential candidates? Is there something they could take away from this?

HAWN: I think that they can. You know, this is something where Donald Trump has - again, they reflected this, on the different side, but very, very divisive rhetoric. At the end of the day, people are voting with things that matter to them. They want something to look forward to. They want a positive message, so that's something that has been reflective in Biden's campaigning. I think we'll see it tonight in the debate, which I'm very much looking forward to seeing.

MARTIN: OK. That's Democratic strategist Kristin Hawn, She's with ROKK Solutions. Kristin Hawn, thanks so much for talking to us.

HAWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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