Squad-Backed Liberal Defeats 20-Year Incumbent in Dem Primary

Rep. Cori Bush (D., Mo.) / Getty Images
August 5, 2020

Far-left challenger Cori Bush defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay (D., Mo.) in a primary challenge Tuesday.

Bush bested Clay by a 3 point margin in a rematch of the 2018 primary. She received increased turnout and support during a moment of urban unrest over racial tensions. Leftist politicians and groups from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and progressive House candidate Jamaal Bowman to the Democratic Socialists of America buoyed Bush’s campaign. Clay has held the seat since 2000.

The Missouri progressive is the latest far-left challenger to defeat a Democratic incumbent with the support of Justice Democrats, a group founded by former staffers from Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign. Justice Democrats also backed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.). More recently, Bronx educator Jamaal Bowman defeated Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), a powerful establishment Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, in a July primary.

Bush previously worked for Sanders's 2016 campaign, and her positions match those of her progressive peers. She supports a Green New Deal, abolishing ICE, and a universal basic income.

"Tonight, Missouri’s First District has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer," Bush said Tuesday after her victory. "We decided that we the people have the answers, and we will lead from the front lines."

Bush, who gained momentum as protests against police violence swept the country, is no stranger to the Black Lives Matter movement. During the Ferguson protests after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, Bush acted as a medic and community organizer.

"She’s being buoyed by this movement, and the movement’s origin is in Ferguson," Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid said.

"If you don’t know, now you know: The Squad is here to stay, and it’s growing," added Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats.