Embattled Rep. Eliot Engel landed a big endorsement Monday in his tough Democratic primary re-election fight – from former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The backing from Clinton, the former US senator from New York and secretary of state, is another indication that the establishment and moderate wings of the party are rallying around Engel, who faces a stiff challenge from progressive insurgent Jamaal Bowman, during the final leg of the campaign.
“I have worked with Eliot Engel as First Lady, as Senator from New York, and as Secretary of State. Every step of the way, his number-one priority has always remained the same: delivering for his constituents,” Clinton said in a statement Monday, the first endorsement of the primary season.
She credited Engel with helping to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and blocking the Trump administration’s “attempt to slash both.”
“We worked side-by-side to bring billions in federal aid to New York after the horror of September 11th. And as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has helped hold this administration accountable, including by uncovering the illegal firing of the Inspector General; secure our elections against foreign interference; and protect dedicated Foreign Service officers from political retribution. He is deeply committed to working with our allies to maintain American leadership on the global stage,” Clinton said.
Engel, 73, first elected in 1988, also has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee, state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).
The African American vote could be crucial in the 16th CD that takes in portions of The Bronx and Westchester counties. Engel is white; Bowman is black.
The progressive wing of the party and some elected officials are backing Bowman, a former Bronx middle school principal. He has the support of neighboring democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Vermont Sen. and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Working Families Party and Justice Democrats.
It’s unclear how much endorsements will be matter during the coronavirus pandemic primary, where it estimated that as many as half of voters will cast a ballot by mail instead of in person. The primary is next Tuesday June 23 but early voting is underway, though turnout has been light, election officials said.
Engel has suffered from a few stumbles during the campaign. He stayed at his Maryland residence instead of tending to the district during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. When he did appear at a press conference in The Bronx after a night of looting, he was caught on a hot mic requesting to speak saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”