Nominating contests in New York, Kentucky and several other states pit establishment Democrats against challengers pushing for sweeping change after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.
A resounding primary win by Democratic US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a fellow liberal's lead over a longtime New York congressman has signaled fresh momentum for progressive politics amid growing calls for economic and racial justice in the United States.
Tuesday's nominating contests in New York, Kentucky and several other states pitted establishment Democrats against challengers pushing for sweeping change after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.
Early election results showed Black and other minority candidates putting up strong performances in several contests.
"It may be that the recent focus on Black Lives Matter and racial inequities in policing opened Democratic voters’ eyes even more to Black candidates," said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia.
Jamaal Bowman, a Black middle-school principal backed by Ocasio-Cortez and other leading progressives, looked poised to defeat US Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee who has been in Congress more than three decades. Bowman led by about 60 percent to 34 percent.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to win the seat encompassing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County in November.
"I’m a Black man raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress," Bowman tweeted on Wednesday as he declared victory. "But today, that 11-year-old boy beaten by police is about to be your Representative. I can't wait to get to DC and cause problems for those maintaining the status quo."
Engel did not concede, however, with a record number of requested absentee ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic not yet counted.
"Any declarative statement on the outcome of this race right now is premature and undermines the democratic process," his campaign said in a statement.
'It's a mandate'
In a neighbouring district, Ocasio-Cortez secured about 70 percent of the vote against centrist challenger Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who got less than 20 percent, New York state election results showed.
"We are proving that the people’s movement in NY isn’t an accident," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "It's a mandate."
She is expected to win a second term in the November general election in her heavily Democratic New York City district.
Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were also outstanding in Kentucky, where Black progressive state legislator Charles Booker was locked in a battle with former fighter pilot Amy McGrath to become the Democratic candidate to face Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on November 3.
Like Engel, McGrath, a prolific fundraiser, was backed by the Democratic Party establishment. She had the edge over Booker in early results, but those did not include the state's two most populous counties and many absentee ballots. Complete results will not be known before June 30, Kentucky officials said.
Another Black candidate, physician Cameron Webb, beat three white opponents in the primary for a US House seat representing central Virginia that Democrats hope to snatch from Republicans.
Also in New York, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney was slightly ahead of liberal challenger Suraj Patel. Two gay Black candidates, Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, were leading in races to replace retiring Representatives Nita Lowey and Jose Serrano, respectively.
President Donald Trump's endorsed candidate, Lynda Bennett, lost to 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn in a Republican congressional primary in North Carolina, while a maverick Republican whom Trump had harshly criticised, Representative Thomas Massie, claimed victory in his Kentucky race.