Editor’s Note:

CNN  — 

Chuck Schumer didn’t get to where he is – minority leader in the US Senate – by being dumb. Quite the opposite, actually.

Which is why the New York senator has to look at the (still pending) results of Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in the Empire State with real trepidation as he looks ahead to his 2022 reelection race.

Here’s why.

1) Rep. Eliot Engel is badly trailing Jamaal Bowman, a liberal, first-time candidate in the 16th District.

2) Rep. Carolyn Maloney is clinging to a narrow lead over Suraj Patel, who ran to the incumbent’s ideological left.

3) Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez crushed a well-funded challenge from former cable TV anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

4) In New York’s 15th and 17th Districts, both heavily Democratic seats where the incumbent wasn’t running for another term, the most liberal candidate prevailed. Both are also gay Black men and would make history in that regard if, as expected, they are elected in November.

(Side note: Because of the coronavirus, thousands of absentee ballots were cast. They will be counted on June 30, and could affect outcomes.)

Wrote The New York Times of the results:

“Early returns seemed to confirm that the liberal wave that elected Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to Congress in 2018 has continued to build momentum.

“Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had faced a primary challenge herself but swept it aside easily, even as like-minded candidates — embracing her call for a Green New Deal and Medicaid for All, among other policies — showed electoral muscle.”

That’s right. But as the Times’ Jonathan Martin noted on Twitter, what happened on Tuesday goes well beyond just Tuesday.

“The success of @AOC, @AyannaPressley, @JamaalBowmanNY, strength of @Booker4KY and failure of @BernieSanders presents the left w a playbook for ’21, ‘22 and ‘24,” he tweeted.” [People of color] who can build multi-racial coalitions offer the best chance to topple the Dem establishment.” Added Martin:

“The [question] now is not if but who in the Senate D caucus the left tries to unseat in ’22 [with] the same case AOC, Bowman & especially [Massachusetts Rep. Ayana Pressley] made. This is why the most interesting story in ‘21 could be how Schumer, if [Democrats] have majority, runs the Senate.”


In fact, the most obvious target for just this sort of primary fight in the 2022 Senate Democratic class is Schumer himself. While he has done very little to make himself vulnerable — he ended March with almost $10 million in the bank – Schumer is, by dint of his leadership position in the Senate and the fact that he has been in federally elected office since 1980, a walking, breathing symbol of the political establishment.

Which, in a vacuum, wouldn’t be the biggest political problem in the world for Schumer. But we – and he – don’t live in a vacuum. And because we don’t, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exists. And that is a major potential problem for Schumer.

Ocasio-Cortez, since she upset Joe Crowley, a member of Democratic leadership discussed as a next possible Speaker of the House, in 2018, has become a massive political star. She, perhaps more than any other person in the party (including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) has become the face of unapologetic liberalism.

She has already raised more than $10 million in this election and spent more than $6 million. According to an analysis by The Hill, she has almost 40 campaign staffers on the payroll. As The Hill’s Gabby Birenbaum writes:

“Her spending hints that Ocasio-Cortez is working to build an even more robust fundraising operation. She has spent almost $1.2 million on Facebook ads that target viewers around the country, ads likely meant to recruit more donors. And she has spent half a million dollars renting email lists and advertising at a Washington-based consulting firm.”

And AOC has pointedly refused to rule out a challenge to Schumer come 2022. “I don’t know,” she said recently of the possibility of a primary bid. “Honestly, this news cycle is so insane who knows where any of us are going to be in 2022.”

For those who dismiss her chances if she did run against Schumer, Tuesday’s voting in New York should cure them of their doubts. Engel, who has been in office since 1988, is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Maloney is the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. That institutional heft in Washington didn’t insulate either of them from serious challenges from their ideological left and, in fact, may have provided fuel for their challengers who argued the incumbents had forgotten about the people they were sent to represent.

Now, Schumer isn’t Engel or Maloney. He won’t be caught by surprise. He likely won’t be outspent. And he will not go down without a massive fight – if it comes to that.

But he is also the leader of Senate Democrats. And that could mean brokering compromises that the left doesn’t love between now and the summer of 2022. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez just keeps getting stronger and more potent as a political force.

Watch this space.