Cori Bush faces difficult primary amid Democratic rift over Israel

Rep. Cori Bush (Mo.), one of the most prominent progressives in the Squad, is facing a challenging reelection bid over her stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict. 

A poll this week found Bush lagging significantly behind prosecutor Wesley Bell in the primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, and recent financial statements show she’s at threat of being outraised by him as well. Bush has gone so far as to paint herself as the underdog in the race to her constituents.

Her formidable primary challenge comes as her positions on Israel have upset many establishment Democrats, leading to a growing national effort to unseat her in the early August race.

Mark Mellman, CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, said Bush is “even more vulnerable today” due to her resistance to the party’s pro-Israel approach to the conflict following Oct. 7. He counts Bush among several progressives who are not safe in their quests for another term in Congress. 

“Part of the reason that people don’t follow them is they think that their ideas aren’t necessarily good ideas, and they think the politics is not smart,” Mellman said.

The recent survey, conducted by the GOP-leaning Remington Research Group, shows Bush behind Bell by double digits in the high-profile contest. The firm found Bell with a 22-point lead among 401 primary voters earlier this month.

For Bell, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis, the apparent surge of support tracks with what his camp believes is enthusiasm for a more pragmatic alternative to represent the blue district in Congress. 

“This poll validates what we’ve known for a while,” Bell told The Hill on Thursday. “We have the momentum in this race because voters in the first district want a representative who is a bridge builder.”

Without mentioning Bush by name, Bell’s comments reflect a frustration that has dogged the congresswoman’s brief House tenure.

Moderate Democrats have often dismissed her as out of alignment with where the party is under President Biden, who won by campaigning as a consensus candidate. Republicans have in turn gone much further, painting her as one of the most extreme and divisive members of the Democratic caucus, evoking her activism on police reform and criminal justice as main points of contrast and now turning their attention to the war in Gaza. 

“Voters want someone who offers steady, grounded leadership in these very difficult times,” Bell said.

Chappelle Nadal, a former state lawmaker, is also running in the primary. 

Bush’s challenges grew after the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel. Facing immense global devastation, Biden and many Democrats rallied in support of Israel against the Palestinian terrorist group. 

While also denouncing Hamas, a small faction of progressives struck a markedly different tone than Biden and their moderate counterparts in Congress over actions by the Israeli government toward Palestinians in Gaza.

Bush, who gained notoriety in Missouri as a civil rights activist during the 2014 Black Lives Matter movement, has been among the most outspoken in favor of Palestinian rights and against some retaliatory actions by the Israeli military.

She has strongly advocated for a cease-fire, a non-starter for many Democrats mourning the loss of 1,200 Israelis, and has lobbied to make certain U.S. aid to Israel conditional. She has used the verbiage “cease-fire now” in office while running for reelection.

While Bush has faced an onslaught of detractors, her supporters have also pushed back against what they see as a concerted effort among some pro-Israel political figures to oust her.  

Tim Black, a left-wing podcast host and commentator, sees her calls for a cease-fire as the reason Bell’s campaign is gaining visible traction.

“Those statements have angered supporters of Israel, and now the money is flowing for her challenger,” he said.

Some progressives like Black see parallels between Bush’s race and what happened in former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner’s Cleveland congressional bid against Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio).

“Money was dumped into Nina Turner’s special election vs. Shontel Brown to the tune of millions at the close of the race,” Black said.

Like Bush, Turner has been outspoken about the Democratic response to Israel and the treatment of Palestinian people.

“Wesley Bell doesn’t have much of a platform,” he said. “The only policies I can be sure he supports is Israel continuing to bomb Gaza.”

Justice Democrats, which helped recruit Bush, is spotlighting what organizers see as Bell’s proximity to groups that also have ample financial support from Republicans. Usamah Andrabi, its communications director, said that Bell is one of several primary challengers who have “become nothing more than a vehicle for GOP megadonors to influence Democratic primary elections.”

Andrabi was referencing the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), which has supported Republican and Democratic candidates with its affiliated super PAC United Democracy Project and has become a target of progressives railing against contributions from some wealthy Republican donors.

A spokesperson for AIPAC told The Hill they support Bell’s primary campaign.

“We proudly endorse Wesley Bell, who is a strong advocate for the US-Israel relationship,” said Marshall Wittmann, “in clear contrast to his opponent who represents the extremist anti-Israel fringe.”

Bush’s positions regarding Israel have become a point of contention with her caucus on Capitol Hill and have carried over to the campaign trail, where Bell and allies have sought to create distance from his rival.

Bush voted alongside Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) against a recent House bill that would specifically prevent members of Hamas and other related terrorist-affiliated groups from coming to the U.S., arguing that the groups are already banned and that the bill is therefore extraneous.  

“It’s just a couple of them voting by themselves on legislation,” Mellman said about Bush and several fellow Squad members, who often band together as a progressive coalition.

Bush and other left-wing lawmakers also voted against Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, for example, which the president considers one of his biggest first-term successes.

“They don’t have a lot of followers on Capitol Hill,” Mellman argued.

Bush’s positions on issues such as reparations, “Medicare for All,” and a Green New Deal — stances that first helped her oust 10-term Rep. William Lacy Clay (D) in a surprise upset in 2021 — have nonetheless elevated her among close colleagues and constituents.

In a show of solidarity with one of her biggest allies in the lower chamber, Bush invited Tlaib to kick off her reelection campaign in Northwoods. Tlaib is the only Palestinian American in the House.

While Bush has indeed alienated some pro-Israel supporters, including some within her own caucus, she has also built a considerable base among local elected leaders in St. Louis, including Mayor Tishaura Jones. She’s also backed by the Service Employees International Union, a powerful labor union. 

Hassan Martini, who leads the progressive group No Dem Left Behind, is fervently backing Bush’s campaign, noting that she won her last race by a landslide. The popular support on the ground, he argued, may not be evidenced by the Republican-backed firm’s latest survey. 

“In 2022, Bush beat out her opponent with a nearly 50-point margin,” Martini said, arguing that the newest poll showing her trailing by double digits “seems unlikely to represent the true feelings of Missouri voters.”

Democrats need to protect Bush and the spirit of that kind of progressive momentum, he argued.

“The GOP has everything to gain from shifting the Overton window in Democratic politics,” Martini said. “When we go further right, it makes their extremists seem less crazy. That’s why Republican research firms work to uproot inspiring progressive politicians such as Cori Bush. We should all be invested in preserving and continuing her legacy.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button