Engel fights to hold onto seat against AOC-backed challenger: What to know about the June 23 primaries

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Even as electoral news has taken a back seat to the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest following the death of George Floyd, several important contests are coming to a vote on Tuesday — from dueling primary challenges among New York Democrats to competitions for a handful of open House seats.

Leading the drama Tuesday will be Democratic New York Rep. Eliot Engel's bid to hold onto his seat against a progressive-backed primary challenger in what could be the second major upset of a veteran New York City Democratic congressman in two years. But the woman who is backing his opponent, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., faces a potentially competitive primary of her own.

And Republican voters in the South will be picking their nominees in runoffs, including in one hotly contested effort to fill White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' former seat.

Here's what you need to know about the June 23 primaries:

New York

The powerful Engel, who was first elected in 1988, is being primaried from the left by middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, who is running on a message that he will be an advocate for low-income communities in Congress.

Bowman was already putting up a strong fight against Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he was endorsed by socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his close ally in the House, Ocasio-Cortez.

Engel's concern about the challenge was made clear when he was caught on a hot mic at a Black Lives Matter event saying that "if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care" about being allowed to speak. Such a primary upset of a high-profile member is not unprecedented -- in fact, it happened in the same city Engel represents just two years ago.

U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) at the American Zionist Movement / AZM Washington Forum in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) at the American Zionist Movement / AZM Washington Forum in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Engel's district encompasses southern Westchester County and the Bronx in New York City. Ocasio-Cortez unseated influential Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., in her Bronx and Queens district in 2018.

The incumbent Engel, however, has secured backing from the Congressional Black Caucus, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California, fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Massachusets Sen. Elizabeth Warren in recent days, showing the popular backing he still has among Democratic Party mainstays.

And Ocasio-Cortez faces a primary challenger of her own from former TV journalist and CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who is running as a pro-business moderate. Caruso-Cabrera is being backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is spending six figures to advertise for her against the far-left freshman congresswoman.

Ocasio-Cortez drew scorn from many in her district after she played a role in getting Amazon to scrap plans for a second headquarters in Queens. The company later still leased office space in New York, but with a much smaller footprint.

But Ocasio-Cortez is constantly in the national spotlight and has been extremely successful in building a campaign war chest, pulling in $2.4 million in April and May to bring her total raised this cycle to $10.5 million.

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Elsewhere in the state, there are primaries in seven potentially competitive congressional races for the seats of Democratic Reps. Carolyn Malony, Antonio Delgado, Max Rose and Anthony Brindisi; Republican Reps. Lee Zeldin and Kohn Katko; and the open seat of retiring Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

And upstate, there's a special election to replace former Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who resigned last year before pleading guilty to insider trading. The race could be interesting in the largely red district as Collins barely beat his Democratic opponent Nate McMurray, who is running again in this special election, in 2018.

But it will be more of an uphill battle for McMurray without the turnout boost from a competitive Democratic presidential primary, and his opponent Republican state Sen. Christopher Jacobs likely has the edge.

President Trump has backed Jacobs since February, and on Tuesday tweeted again in support of the candidate.

"Chris Jacobs (@JacobsNY27) will be a tremendous Congressman who will always fight for New York," Trump said. "He is Strong on the Border, our Military and Vets, and the Second Amendment. Chris has my Complete and Total Endorsement! Vote for Chris on June 23."

Kentucky

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection and it's seemed clear for over a year that his eventual general election challenger would be fighter pilot Amy McGrath, who was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earlier this year.

But she will first have to get past a primary field that includes nine other candidates. That includes state Rep. Charles Booker, who has begun racking up high-profile endorsements ahead of the Tuesday primary and is challenging McGrath from the left.

Fighter pilot Amy McGrath is the Democratic Party's choice to take on Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But she faces a surging progressive primary opponent in state Rep. Charles Booker Tuesday. (McGrath campaign/Facebook)

Fighter pilot Amy McGrath is the Democratic Party's choice to take on Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But she faces a surging progressive primary opponent in state Rep. Charles Booker Tuesday. (McGrath campaign/Facebook)

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According to Politico, Booker has been endorsed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., as well as major national progressive groups like Indivisible, Democracy for America, MoveOn and the Working Families Party.

Booker, despite the momentum, is still the underdog, as McGrath has the advantage in funding and a year's worth of national attention.

Elsewhere in Kentucky, Republican Rep. Andy Barr is up for reelection in a race that according to Cook Political Report is a "likely Republican" seat but still could become competitive in the fall.

His potential Democratic opponents are Josh Hicks and Daniel Kemph, who will face off Tuesday.

Hicks is a former Marine from rural Kentucky who later became a police officer, while Kemph is a former banker from California who later moved to the Bluegrass State.

Hicks appears to have a more organized campaign and has done well for himself in fundraising.

Virginia

In Virginia, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is up for reelection and is uncontested in his primary.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., left, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is up for reelection in 2020. 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., left, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is up for reelection in 2020.  (AP)

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The Republicans in the primary to challenge him are Alissa Baldwin, Daniel Gade and Tom Speciale, with Gade holding the fundraising advantage over his competitors. Gade is also endorsed by Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, and multiple state legislators.

There are also primary races for four competitive House seats in Virginia, with Reps. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Elaine Luria, D-Va., all members of the 2018 Democratic freshman class that took the House majority, fighting to keep their places in Congress.

But only the Republican Party in Luria's district chooses its nominee by a primary. So she will find out whether she'll face Jarome Bell, Ben Loyola, Jr. or former Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va., -- whom she beat in 2018 -- on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, incumbent Fifth Congressional District Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., was ousted in his district's Republican nomination convention in favor of Bob Good, a county supervisor. The Democratic primary for that seat features four candidates, all of whom have raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the primary.

Odds and ends 

Three states in the South will hold primary runoff elections on Tuesday, with Republican nominations for Congress at stake in Mississippi and North Carolina.

In Mississippi, Thomas Carey and Brian Flowers are facing off in the Second Congressional District for the right to take on incumbent Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

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And in North Carolina, voters picking White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' replacement in the state's 11th Congressional District will have two strong candidates to choose from in Trump-endorsed Lynda Bennett and a charismatic former Meadows staffer, Madison Cawthorn.

Bennett earned 23 percent of the vote in the March 3 Republican primary for North Carolina's 11th Congressional District. Cawthorn came in a close second with 20 percent of the vote, sending the contest to a runoff because no candidate got 30 percent of the initial primary vote.

South Carolina is also holding primary runoffs on Tuesday, but none for national office.

Fox News' Paul Steinhauser and Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.