AIPAC’s Next Challenges

By Jim Ellis — Friday, June 28, 2024

Campaign Finance

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is getting most of the credit for Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s (D-NY) Democratic primary defeat earlier in the week, and deservedly so considering their associated entity’s huge expenditures, but will their next endeavors end in a similar manner?

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) at Saturday’s Rally in the Bronx.

Rep. Bowman went down to a crushing 58-42 percent defeat at the hands of Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Tuesday night with the aid of almost $20 million being spent for Latimer and against Bowman in the congressional primary. Most of this outside money came from The United Democracy Project, a Super PAC associated with AIPAC.

Yet, some key facets of this race will not be present in campaigns against a pair of the group’s other important targets. Earlier in the year, when the anti-Israel protests began in earnest the AIPAC leadership pledged to spend $100 million to defeat some of Israel’s strongest adversaries in Congress. With Rep. Bowman successfully unseated, two others, Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), appear to be next in line and though every political race is different, similarities to Bowman’s pre-primary position are relatively strong.

To begin, Rep. Bowman, considering some of his other antics and inflammatory statements uttered during his tenure in the House, made him vulnerable beyond his stance against Israel. Therefore, he was a potential incumbent political casualty even before AIPAC entered the scene. The same is true for Reps. Bush and Omar.

Conversely, Bowman’s opponent is an accomplished politician and much more established than either of the men that Bush and Omar are facing.

As Westchester County Executive, Latimer already represented 91 percent of the 16th District constituency. In the area that he and Bowman had in common, Latimer’s percentage rose to 63.4 percent. In the Bronx borough, where Latimer was not a familiar figure, Rep. Bowman led with 83.6 percent support. The latter domain, however, accounted for less than 10 percent of the overall vote. Prior to his service as Westchester County executive, Latimer was an elected member of the New York Senate and Assembly.

While Reps. Bush and Omar’s opponents are certainly credible, their political resumes are not as formidable as Latimer in New York.

Post-election reports are surfacing through social media that Rep. Bowman was already trailing by 17 points prior to The United Democracy Project even beginning its media blitz. The reports suggested that the ads did not begin until April 3, yet a Mellman Group poll of the NY-16 Democratic constituency conducted over the March 26-30 period already found Rep. Bowman trailing, 52-35 percent.

Another poll, however, from Upswing Research and executed during the March 5-10 period found the race locked in a dead heat, with Rep. Bowman actually leading by a percentage point, 43-42 percent. While the final results suggest the Mellman poll is the more accurate of these two, it may or may not be the case that the incumbent was already trailing badly when the bulk of the media blitz targeting him began.

Additionally, this race is fully contained within the exorbitantly expensive New York City media market, thus one explanation for the huge amount of money being spent. The dollar expenditure in the other districts is unlikely to be as large.

Finally, the United Democracy Project did not fully message the Israel issue. Rather, the bulk of the advertising attacked Rep. Bowman for not supporting President Joe Biden’s legislative initiatives such as his opposition to the infrastructure spending legislation that was passed into law, thus this contest was decided upon other points not directly related to his anti-Israel stance. It is likely that the outside ad campaign will adopt different themes against Bush and Omar.

For her part, Rep. Bush is already issuing statements condemning “AIPAC and their allies” for spending “waves of money” to unseat Bowman. She is clearly trying to create a negative image of the organization since her standing at the commensurate point is similar to where Rep. Bowman stood.

Rep. Bush is under an ethics investigation for misuse of government funds and already finds herself in a tight race with her chief primary opponent, former St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell. A Mellman Group poll taken recently (June 18-22; 400 likely MO-1 Democratic primary voters) found the Aug. 6 primary race locked in a dead heat. The ballot test projected Bell to be leading Rep. Bush by just a single point, 43-42 percent.

Since the AIPAC leadership was good to its word about coming in hard against major anti-Israel members of Congress in Bowman’s case, they will also come into St. Louis in an attempt to even the score with Rep. Bush. It is unlikely they will spend as much as they did in New York, but it is probable the organization will again be a major part of this particular primary campaign in its closing weeks.

The same can be said for Rep. Omar in Minneapolis. Two years ago, former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels held the congresswoman to a scant 50-48 percent victory. This time, Samuels has more credibility as a congressional challenger, scored recent endorsements from major labor unions, and now will likely see major help coming from the AIPAC sources as the candidates battle toward the Aug. 13 Minnesota primary.

There can be no denying that the AIPAC forces were a major component of the coalition that defeated Rep. Bowman. Whether they can help achieve the equivalent result against Reps. Bush and Omar in August remains to be seen.

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