Last week, we asked how endangered long-time NYC Rep. Eliot Engel (D) was in his Democratic primary later this month (incidentally, Engel's primary challenger, Jamaal Bowman, just picked up an endorsement from Bernie Sanders). Today, we ask the same question of Engel's neighboring incumbent, Rep. Yvette Clarke, who represents parts of Brooklyn. Like Engel, Clarke has a relatively progressive voting record, while (also like Engel) still generally associated with the establishment wing of the party. And like Engel, she faces a vigorous challenge later this month.
In the 2018 primary, the nation's eyes were riveted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's upset victory over incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary. This overshadowed Yvette Clarke's own narrow escape -- she turned back a challenge from community activist Adem Bunkeddeko with just 52% of the vote. Bunkeddeko is back for a rematch this cycle, but this time he's got company: Isiah James, a Democratic Socialist, and city councilor Chaim Deutsch, who is a conservative Democrat closely tied to the Orthodox Jewish community. James and Bunkeddeko are running to her left, while Deutsch is tackling her from the right.
So how much trouble is Clarke in?
On the one hand, it is very often the case that a primary challenger who narrowly loses to the incumbent on their first try is able to close the deal on the second, as they become a more familiar figure and gain the attention of lower-information voters. Such was the case for Marie Newman against Dan Lipinski earlier this year, as well as Donna Edwards ousting Albert Wynn back in the youthful days of this blog. There was some indication that Clarke was caught napping last time around, and has kicked her campaign into gear this cycle. But coronavirus and lockdowns are throwing all normal campaigns for a loop, and to the extent Clarke needs to run from behind, she might not be able to do it.
On the other hand, unlike in Engel's race, here the field of challengers hasn't consolidated down. James and Bunkeddeko still may split the anti-establishment vote. And while James' candidacy appears to be sputtering out a bit, Bunkeddeko thus far hasn't received the high-profile endorsements that Jamaal Bowman has managed to pull down -- indicating that his challenge is potentially seen as less viable than Bowman's.
Yet while the conventional wisdom is that fractured fields help incumbents, that may not be the case here given how Deutsch is running his campaign. While Clarke is not a conservative Democrat, she has historically polled well in the Orthodox Jewish portions of her district where Deutsch's base resides -- this area almost certainly gave her the margin of victory in 2018. The way Deutsch is running his campaign -- actively touting endorsements from the NYPD and decrying "looters in the streets" -- seems ill-suited to actually winning a 2020 Democratic primary, but his laser-like focus on the portions of the district where Clarke has historically over-performed could suppress her numbers enough to allow Bunkeddeko to pull through.
This race has flown further under the radar than Engel's, but I think there's a solid chance the incumbent gets unseated. New York is shaping to have another eventful primary.