For the left, the outcome is proof that they could translate the momentum from their wins earlier this month in the New York primaries into a victory in the heartland of the country. But it will also further intensify the feud between liberals and CBC leaders, who have forcefully decried challenges against their members.
The Black Caucus had successfully defended two other incumbents from progressive opponents earlier this year: Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). CBC members rallied around Clay, hoping to use this primary as another chance to ward off future challenges.
But Bush, who participated in the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of an unarmed black man, made her activism the centerpiece of her 2020 campaign.
“We’ve been called radicals, terrorists. We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement,” she said during a victory speech Tuesday night. “But now we are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-faith mass movement united in demanding change, in demanding accountability, in demanding that our police, our government, our country recognize that Black lives do indeed matter.”
Clay is the seventh incumbent to fall in the 2020 cycle — and the second one on Tuesday after Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) got trounced by his GOP challenger. Bush’s win represents the end of an era; The Clay family has held Missouri’s 1st District since 1969. Clay was first elected in 2000, succeeding his father, former Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.), a co-founder of the Black Caucus.
Bush rode a wave of progressive enthusiasm generated by wins in the New York primaries where Jamaal Bowman, a middle-school principal backed by Justice Democrats, ousted House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and two other progressives won open seats in the city and its suburbs.
Bowman endorsed Bush, who said in a pre-primary interview that she saw a surge in donations and volunteer interest after those wins that helped her in the final weeks.
“Cori is the fifth challenger backed by Justice Democrats to unseat an incumbent. She organized a movement through pepper spray and rioting police in the streets of Ferguson,” said Alex Rojas, group’s executive director in a statement. “Her tenacity and unbreakable pursuit of justice is desperately needed in Congress today.”
Clay took the threat seriously, dropping negative mailers and running a TV ad that excoriated Bush for taking a $ 22,000 salary from her campaign in the second quarter. And he outraised Bush $ 744,000 to her $ 570,000, by mid-July.
But the incumbent was outspent on TV by Bush and her allies by at least $ 250,000. Justice Democrats and a new group, Fight Corporate Monopolies, aired TV ads on her behalf.
And Bush had also seen her profile rise since she first ran in 2018. She served as a surrogate for Sanders’ 2020 campaign and was featured in the Netflix documentary “Bringing Down the House” with now-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — both of which raised her name ID. Sanders himself fundraised for her and joined livestream events with her campaign.
Ocasio-Cortez is a personal friend of Bush who endorsed and campaigned with her in St. Louis in 2018. But Ocasio-Cortez, who serves on a committee with Clay, declined to endorse Bush this time, a sign of the fraught politics surrounding challenges of sitting incumbents.
Bush’s win comes at the end of the 2020 primary season, but it is sure to rattle the Black Caucus leaders ahead of the 2022 cycle, when House races will be run under redistricted congressional lines.