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SQUAD GOALS

In closing arguments, Bowman leans in on extreme rhetoric toward Israel

With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by his side, Bowman unleashes profanity-laced attacks against AIPAC

David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) speaks during a rally at St. Mary's Park on June 22, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) turned up the heat in his closing arguments to supporters at a sweltering campaign rally in the South Bronx on Saturday, during which he uncorked a profanity-laden tirade against AIPAC, accused his primary challenger of supporting genocide in Gaza and reiterated his call for a cease-fire, which he has defiantly embraced as one of his top issues in Tuesday’s primary election.

The weekend rally, joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was held outside Bowman’s district, which covers Westchester County and a small portion of the North Bronx. The location choice underscored how Bowman, an embattled two-term incumbent, appears to have cut his losses in seeking to court key constituencies at the end of a bruising primary that polling has shown he is likely to lose.

It also demonstrated how Bowman, 48, is leaning into his extreme positions and caustic rhetoric in the final days of a closely watched race against George Latimer, the popular Westchester County executive who is leading by double digits, according to polls. 

Latimer, a 70-year-old Democrat, has gained widespread support from the district’s sizable and politically engaged Jewish community, leading members of which had urged him to mount his challenge as Bowman grew increasingly hostile to Israel in the months following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks.

The race has drawn millions in outside spending from pro-Israel political groups such as AIPAC, which also encouraged Latimer to run. Its super PAC has been hammering Bowman on the airwaves in what has now become one of the most expensive House primaries in history. The barrage of attacks has infuriated Bowman and his far-left allies, who have charged that AIPAC’s efforts are subverting democracy with backing from the right-wing donor class.

“They have already lost, because the district, the world and the American people are with us,” Bowman exclaimed on Saturday in a public park that sits outside his district. “They are in this race because we call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, and we’re going to keep calling for a permanent cease-fire.”

Leading attendees in a chant for a “cease-fire now,” Bowman insisted that he would “not stand silent while U.S. tax dollars kill babies and women and children,” accusing Latimer of supporting what the congressman has frequently called a genocide in Gaza. 

He added that Latimer is seeking to “destroy” democracy in partnership with AIPAC. “We’re gonna showing fucking AIPAC the motherfucking power of the South Bronx,” Bowman said at the rally, where he used a number of expletives.

Even as Bowman and his allies have framed the primary as an existential battle to fend off what Sanders described in his speech at the rally as “the billionaire class” and “oligarchs” seeking to “control the United States government,” polling had strongly indicated that the congressman was at risk of losing his seat several weeks before AIPAC had entered the race in mid-May.

In early April, Democratic Majority for Israel’s political arm, DMFI PAC, which has invested $1 million in the race to boost Latimer, released a poll of the district that it had conducted in late March, showing Bowman losing by 17 points with only 35% of the Democratic primary vote. Later, in mid-June, a separate independent survey all but replicated those results, indicating that Bowman would lose by the same deficit — and with just 31% of the Democratic primary vote.

Last cycle, AIPAC and DMFI PAC chose not to invest against Bowman as he successfully fended off two pro-Israel challengers who effectively split the Jewish vote. Still, he prevailed with only 54% of the vote — hardly a commanding total for an incumbent lawmaker.

DMFI PAC, which has hoped to oppose Bowman since be defeated a pro-Israel incumbent in 2020, determined that this cycle was ripe for an upset. 

The group disclosed to Jewish Insider on Friday that it has been tracking Bowman’s standing among voters for years, citing previously undisclosed polling that suggests his approval ratings have been dwindling for some time, owing in part to a series of damaging scandals such as his decision to falsely pull a House fire alarm last fall — which drew a GOP-led censure as well as a misdemeanor charge.

Between July 2022 and March 2024, as the scandals continued to mount, DMFI PAC said its polling in the district showed that Bowman’s favorability rating had dropped by 19 points, while his unfavorability rating had skyrocketed by 27 points.

Between March and June, meanwhile, DMFI PAC said it polled the district again to test if a strategy of reaching Black and Latino voters, whom Bowman has been rallying to turn out in the primary, had made a discernible impact. Its paid outreach efforts to those communities, the group claimed, resulted in some movement for Latimer — including an increase of 14 points among Black voters and 12 points among Latino voters.

“The truth is, the paid efforts were icing on the cake,” said a DMFI PAC source who agreed to discuss the group’s efforts on the condition of anonymity.

If Bowman’s rally highlighted the intensity of growing intra-party divisions over Israel that are likely to figure prominently in other House races this summer, it also suggested that the far left’s coalition has recently been splintering as radical pro-Palestinian activists have turned away from some Squad members, citing their support for President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign as an endorsement of his approach to the war in Gaza.

On Saturday, Bowman’s event was disrupted by protesters who held signs describing Bowman and his allies as “Zionists” and calling on them to “dump Genocide Joe and the Squad,” among other things.

Latimer, for his part, kept a lower profile over the weekend, content to allow Bowman’s theatrics and us-against-them rhetoric to take center stage ahead of Tuesday’s election.

“This is a turnout race, y’all,” Bowman said at a separate rally in Westchester on Friday. “This is not about persuasion. We got our people. They got their people.”

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