A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Stars are born – in both parties

Primaries in Virginia, North Carolina, and New York rewarded fresh faces on the left and right – heralding a "new generation" of diverse political talent.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Jamaal Bowman campaigns for congress at a polling place in Mt. Vernon, New York, June 23, 2020.

Dear reader: 

Remember these names: Madison Cawthorn, Cameron Webb, and Jamaal Bowman.

The first is a Republican and the other two are Democrats, and they became instant stars yesterday after winning – or in Mr. Bowman’s case, likely winning – their parties’ congressional primaries. Mr. Cawthorn, a 24-year-old conservative businessman, beat President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate to fill the North Carolina seat vacated by the president’s now-chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Dr. Webb, an African American physician in Charlottesville, Virginia, decisively won the Democratic primary in his Republican-leaning district. He is seen as having a shot at winning in November, after the state GOP ousted the incumbent, Rep. Denver Riggleman, in favor of a little-known figure named Bob Good via an unusual “drive-thru convention.”

Mr. Bowman, an African American educator, appeared headed for victory Wednesday over 16-term Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Add to the mix, too, Charles Booker of Kentucky, a young African American state legislator who is vying with the Democratic establishment favorite, Amy McGrath, for the chance to face U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in November. The primary is too close to call, but Representative Booker has already made a name for himself with his late campaign surge.

“There’s no doubt that the focus on Black Lives Matter and the sense that there needs to be more representation by Black Americans in our systems of government has helped create the tail winds behind some of these candidates,” Theodore R. Johnson of the Brennan Center for Justice told the Monitor’s Harry Bruinius.

Stephen Smith/AP
GOP primary candidate Madison Cawthorn participates in a debate at the Haywood County Courthouse in Waynesville, North Carolina. Cawthorn, 24, soundly defeated the preferred candidate of President Donald Trump, Lynda Bennett, by a 2-1 margin.

But add the North Carolina GOP primary, and a larger theme emerges: that voters have the final say, and sometimes buck the wishes of party elders – even the president. Until yesterday, President Trump had a perfect record this year in primary endorsements. Though he can blame his chief of staff for steering him toward endorsing the Meadows family friend who lost.

Voters also sometimes want fresh faces and fresh energy. Congressman Engel did himself no favors when he was caught on a hot mic saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” when asking to speak in early June at a news conference on civil unrest.

In North Carolina, Mr. Trump will surely embrace Mr. Cawthorn, who is favored to win the seat.

“Mr. Cawthorn campaigned as the embodiment of a new generation of politicians on the right who are ready to go toe-to-toe with young officials ascending on the progressive left, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York,” writes Nick Fandos in The New York Times. 

In addition to youth, Mr. Cawthorn brings another form of diversity to the table: He uses a wheelchair, after an accident left him partially paralyzed. 

As for his age, he will be just old enough to serve in the House. He turns 25 in August. 

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