NY-16: Poll Finds Rep. Engel Trailing

Jamaal Bowman campaign-financed attack ad example against veteran Rep. Eliot Engel, hitting him for remaining in Maryland during the rise in COVID-19 cases and then only returning to the district when his political position became endangered


By Jim Ellis

June 19, 2020 — An internal poll for New York Congressional District 16 challenger Jamaal Bowman suggests we could see an upset in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

As the race between Bowman, a former middle school principal, and veteran Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) becomes more contentious and competitive, the challenger’s campaign this week publicized the results of their recent Data for Progress survey (released June 17; 525 NY-16 likely Democratic primary voters). The poll projects Bowman as establishing a clear lead over Rep. Engel, who was first elected to the House in 1988 after spending the previous 12 years in the New York state Assembly.

The DfP data shows Bowman holding a 41-31 percent lead over Congressman Engel in the closing days of the Democratic primary. When asked of the 27 percent who responded that they were still undecided, 40 percent of those individuals indicated they were leaning toward Bowman as compared to just 18 percent who said the same of Rep. Engel. Adding leaners to the secondary ballot test produces a substantial 52-36 percent advantage for Bowman.

The Engel campaign questions the accuracy of the Data for Progress survey because the questionnaire only gave respondents the choice of Bowman and Rep. Engel, even though two other candidates are also on the primary ballot.

Looking deeper at the data, Bowman leads Rep. Engel 56-10 percent among African Americans and 37-29 percent among Hispanics. Rep. Engel maintains an advantage with white voters, 52-30 percent. The district’s Citizen Voting Age population segments as 43.1 percent white, 31.2 percent black, and 20.0 percent Hispanic.

Veteran New York Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx)

The Engel campaign spokesperson further countered the Bowman poll’s findings, saying that the congressman’s most recent internal Global Strategy Group survey gives the incumbent an eight-point advantage. The Engel campaign, however, will not release their GSG data.

This campaign kicked into high gear in early June after Rep. Engel was captured on video as telling Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., when attempting to address the Diaz’s local meeting about the COVID-19 virus, that he “wouldn’t care (about speaking) if he weren’t in a primary.” Diaz had told the congressman that he was not allowing the many elected officials present to address the meeting attendees, which prompted the Engel rejoinder.

The veteran congressman and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had already come under attack from the Bowman campaign about being absent from the district since the COVID-19 crisis began. His opponent had already been making the point that Rep. Engel self-quarantined at his home in Maryland, and only returned to his New York City district to begin campaigning once it was clear that the Bowman challenge was becoming serious. Rep. Engel’s videoed conversation with Diaz then became perfect fodder for Bowman’s attack ads.

The challenger had raised just under $1 million at the June 3 pre-primary campaign disclosure filing and is backed by neighboring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) and her Justice Democrats political organization. Congressman Engel has countered with recent endorsements from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and former US Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has endorsed Bowman, who also secured the Working Families Party ballot line.

Before releasing their poll findings, Bowman’s campaign financed a wave of attack ads against Engel hitting him for remaining in Maryland and then only returning to the district when his political position became endangered and included video footage of Engel’s conversation with Diaz.

The Engel campaign retaliated with their own attack ads calling out Bowman for not even becoming a registered Democrat until 2018. They produce documentation that Bowman was a member of the Independence Party, a minor NY political party that controls a ballot line in various elections and is notorious for granting their official endorsement to the major party candidate willing to contribute the most money to their organization.

The Engel campaign is quick to point out that Bowman was a registered Independence Party member when the group awarded their statewide ballot line to John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign and accuses him of not being a “real Democrat.”

The second line of Engel’s attack points out that Bowman’s school is below standard in student performance in math and English, and even worse than most of the commensurate schools within low income urban school districts. He thus attacks Bowman as being a substandard educator.

Momentum is clearly with Bowman, but whether it will be enough to overcome the veteran congressman’s get-out-the-vote organization remains to be seen on Tuesday night. The 16th District race is fast becoming the contest to watch in the New York primary.

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