BLM organizer knocks off veteran Democrat in House primary

Black Lives Matter organizer Cori Bush defeated Rep. William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s Democratic primary Tuesday night, halting a St. Louis political dynasty.

Jason Rosenbaum, a political correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio, called Bush’s victory “one of the most significant moments in the history of St. Louis politics. It is enormous.”

Clay has served in the House of Representatives since 2001, succeeding his father, who had held the seat since 1969. Bush, 44, had challenged Clay, 64, in 2018 but lost by 20 points.

In the 2020 rematch, she edged out Clay to win the Democratic nomination for the St. Louis-based district.

“They counted us out. They called me just the protester. I’m just the activist. With no name, no title and no real money. That’s all they said that I was. But St. Louis showed up today,” Bush said following her victory, adding, “It is historic that this year, of all the years, we are sending a Black, working-class, single mother, who’s been fighting for Black lives since Ferguson, all the way to the halls of Congress.”

The district is considered safely Democratic, meaning Bush will almost certainly become the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.

Bush became involved in political activism in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, joining the protests there. Bush, a minister and nurse, suffered from COVID-19 during the campaign but closed out the race with strong fundraising numbers. Following her recovery from the virus, Bush was an activist participant in the protests that swept the nation following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

This wasn’t a simple liberal-versus-conservative ideological battle. Clay is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a supporter of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Clay had establishment support with endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris and Planned Parenthood, while Bush received an early endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who she thanked at the beginning of her victory speech. An outside group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Clay over his opposition to an Obama-era Wall Street reform.

“I fight for [progressive] values just because it’s right,” Bush said in the final days of the campaign. “I always think that ‘I am the people I serve.’ I did not coin the phrase, but I always say that because I have lived low-wage. I’ve been unhoused, living out of a car with two children. I have lived uninsured ... I’m a victim of violent crime. I’m a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. So I’ve been through so many things that have happened here in this community that haven’t really been addressed by our congressperson even though he’s been in that seat for 20 years.”

Bush was endorsed in both 2018 and 2020 by Justice Democrats, the progressive organization that helped propel Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley to victory two years ago. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush were featured in the 2019 Netflix documentary “Knock Down the House.”

Bush is the third Justice Democrat challenger to knock out a Democratic incumbent in the 2020 cycle: Marie Newman defeated anti-abortion Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski in Chicago and Jamaal Bowman was victorious over Rep. Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs chairman, in New York.

Shortly after his own primary victory this year, Bowman endorsed Bush. Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned for Bush in 2018, did not.

Tlaib’s primary in Michigan was also held Tuesday night, and while the Associated Press had yet to make an official call, she was leading challenger Brenda Jones, president of the Detroit City Council. On Wednesday morning, Tlaib declared victory.

Omar’s primary is next week, and the final Justice Democrat challenge occurs next month, when Holyoke, Mass., Mayor Alex Morse attempts to knock off Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.


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