The votes are in, but the jury is still out on a handful of New York’s most closely contested races and an unexpectedly competitive Senate primary in Kentucky.
If the current leaders in New York hold on after the absentee ballots are counted next week, progressive newcomers will have successfully knocked off longtime Rep. Eliot Engel and replaced retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. Incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney is also locked in a tight race to retain her seat. City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. – a social conservative who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and has said he would consider voting for President Donald Trump in November – is trailing in his race, likely sparing Democrats an embarrassing result in the country’s bluest district.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won handily in her first primary as an incumbent, despite a well-funded challenge from her right.
But the uncertainty surrounding so many of the night’s races, as voters wait for their mailed-in ballots to be counted, could be a sign of things to come. The coronavirus pandemic is worsening in many regions, and if it doesn’t improve rapidly ahead of the fall, more states could shift toward absentee voting, meaning hundreds of millions of Americans could be facing a similar wait on election night in November.
AOC wins easily as progressives eye a big night in New York
The charge didn’t stick and Ocasio-Cortez, who turned her campaign team into a constituent service army during the worst of the coronavirus crisis in New York City, appears poised to cruise to a second term in Congress.
With her overwhelming win in Tuesday’s primary, chatter over a potential challenge to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in 2022 is likely to heat up. But in the meantime, Ocasio-Cortez could see her influence in the House Democratic caucus grow if fellow New York progressives Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, who could be one of the first openly LGBTQ Black members of Congress hold on to their leads in closer, still-undecided races.
“What you all have shown is that a people’s movement here is not an accident, it is a mandate,” Ocasio-Cortez said on a livestream Tuesday night. “This absolutely strengthens us. It’s not just about winning or losing, but so much of this is about how we win. To win with that kind of mandate is transformative, and it tells us that our policy positions are not an accident.”
Caruso-Cabrera, who raised about $2 million, didn’t concede or acknowledge Ocasio-Cortez in a late statement, but urged Democrats to come together ahead of the presidential election this fall.
“Together, we must continue the charge forward toward November,” she said. “We must rally and support the standard bearer of our Democratic party, Joe Biden. Only through unity will we lead the way forward as Democrats and restore integrity to the democratic process.”
Voting goes relatively smoothly in Kentucky
The disastrous primary days that occurred in Wisconsin and Georgia, where citizens waited in line for hours to try to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic, did not seem to materialize in Kentucky.
The state dramatically reduced the number of polling places from 3,700 to fewer than 200, including just one each in the state’s two largest cities, due to a massive shortages of poll workers. That led to concerns of a suppressed Black vote, including from national figures such as Hillary Clinton, NBA star LeBron James and Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate.
There were some issues. By midday, lines in Lexington stretched for about an hour, according to local media reports and voters who posted about their wait times on social media.
But voting was steady throughout the day in Louisville at the Exposition Center, a sprawling building designed to allow hundreds of people to cast ballots at once and be socially distant from one another. Several voters told CNN they finished the entire voting process in 10 to 15 minutes.
A judge extended voting by 30 minutes, allowing more than 100 people who were waiting outside the Expo Center to vote. The doors briefly re-opened after Charles Booker, the Democrat facing Amy McGrath in a closely watched Senate primary there, asked a court to extend voting hours until 9 p.m. ET, citing traffic going to the building. McGrath later tweeted that she too was filing an injunction seeking to keep the polls open in Louisville, but the judge did not issue another order beyond the half hour extension.
“While all eyes were on Kentucky, we offered the nation a model for success in conducting an election during a pandemic,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams in a statement on Tuesday. “I’m proud of Kentuckians for exercising their rights, and proud of the bipartisan coalition who worked with me — the Governor, State Board of Elections, county clerks, and poll workers — to make this election both successful and safe.”
24 year-old North Carolina Republican wins House primary without Trump’s endorsement
Madison Cawthorn, a 24-year-old political newcomer, defeated Lynda Bennett, a realtor and President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate, in the North Carolina GOP congressional primary for the seat vacated by the President’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Cawthorn is a real estate investor who was partially paralyzed in a 2014 car crash. He will turn 25 in August, the constitutionally required age to serve in the House. If elected in November, he would become the youngest member in Congress, a title currently held by Ocasio-Cortez.
“Tonight, the voters of the 11th district of North Carolina said they’re ready for a new generation of leadership in Washington,” Cawthorn said in a statement Tuesday night. “You turned our message of hope, opportunity and freedom into a movement.”
Cawthorn’s victory marks the latest surprising victory of a Republican winning his primary despite the preference of the President. Meadows had also endorsed his opponent.
In early June, all 73 of Trump’s endorsed candidates in congressional primary and special elections this cycle had won, according to Steve Guest, a Republican Party rapid response director. But then Rep. Denver Riggleman lost a district convention after officiating a gay wedding last year. And on Tuesday, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie overwhelmingly won his primary despite Trump calling to “throw” the congressman out of the party after he held up a coronavirus aid package in March.
Still, Republicans strongly support Trump. When Republican registered voters were asked in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll if they considered themselves to be more of a supporter of Trump or the party, 52% said Trump, while 38% said the party.
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.