Last Call For Charlie Rangel

Thad Cochran isn’t the only long-time congressional incumbent at risk of forced retirement tomorrow. 22-term House incumbent Charles Rangel (D-NY) beat Cochran to Washington by two years, and is similarly asking voters for one more term.

Unlike Cochran, though, Rangel very nearly lost his last primary, edging Adriano Espaillat by two points after the twin setbacks of censure by the House for financial improprieties and the loss of his Ways & Means chairmanship when Republicans took over the House. But as Mara Gay notes in a Wall Street Journal report on tomorrow’s primary, the underlying threat to Rangel is the slow but steady demographic transformation of his Harlem district, once the cultural capital of black America. Now NY-13 has a Hispanic plurality, with Dominican-Americans especially notable, among them Espaillat, who’s back for a rematch. Indeed, Gay uses Rangel’s plight to illustrate the demographic changes in a number of House districts occupied by well-known African-American pols.

Everything about Gay’s piece leads you to expect a premature retirement for Rangel (he’s lost some key endorsements to Espaillat, though he was re-endorsed by that unlikely but heavy Harlem presence, the Big He). But the one pollster in the field in NY-13, Siena College, has shown Rangel with a double-digit lead (as Daily Kos Elections points out, Siena doesn’t have the best record for accuracy, and polling primaries is always perlious).

If Rangel does lose, parallels will inevitably be drawn to his own it’s-time-for-a-change victory over Harlem icon Adam Clayton Powell back in 1970. But it’s Harlem itself that has changed more than the times.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.