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2 top Democrats face off in House primary thanks to redistricting in New York

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In New York today, two members of Congress who have each served 30 years are running against one another because of redistricting. They've been friends and allies for decades, but the race for the seat in the 12th District has turned into a bitter primary fight. Zach Hirsch has the story from New York City.

ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler have supported a lot of the same policies. They're both from Manhattan, both popular with liberals. But now, in an unusual second primary of the summer, people have to choose. - Upper East Side or Upper West Side.

MARY BARTO: I'm going to vote for Jerry Nadler (laughter). I'm an Upper West Sider. He's our guy. He's our guy.

HIRSCH: Mary Barto stopped by a rally for the congressman over the weekend. She says it's terrible she has to make that choice. But Jerry Nadler supports women, she says, and that's the most important thing to her. But it's also meaningful that he's Jewish.

BARTO: Certainly, Jewish people are being singled out, attacked. I think it's important. You have to know what it's like to be attacked like that from the inside.

HIRSCH: New York has the world's largest Jewish population, aside from Israel. But Nadler is the city's only Jewish representative in the House. That was not a deciding factor for any of the voters interviewed for this story, though, and it's not really Nadler's main pitch.

JERRY NADLER: Our democracy is in peril. We have a Republican Party that is openly and proudly insurrectionists.

HIRSCH: Nadler has been talking about his role leading the impeachment hearings of former President Donald Trump, and he argues that he's more progressive than Maloney, pointing out a handful of times when he voted to her left.

NADLER: I voted against the Iraq War. She voted for it. I voted against the Patriot Act, which was, you know, wholesale surveillance. She voted for it. I voted for the Iran deal. She voted against it.

HIRSCH: Bob Liff, a spokesman for Maloney, said the congresswoman listened to intelligence analysts and community leaders, particularly from the Jewish community, on the Iran deal. There were parts of the Patriot Act she did not approve of. And she would not have voted for the Iraq War if she knew then what she knows now, Liff said. For her part, Maloney's pitch is about reproductive health care and women's rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLYN MALONEY: You cannot send a man to do a woman's job.

HIRSCH: Maloney has represented the Upper East Side for decades. She says she's been more effective, bringing billions of dollars into the district for big infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue subway. But identity comes up a lot in her campaign. Maloney points out that she's the only woman in the house representing Manhattan, and for her supporters, that matters.

ALEXANDRA STILLMAN: The majority of Congress is comprised of men, and I think that we need at least one woman from Manhattan to represent us.

HIRSCH: Alexandra Stillman can't vote yet. She's 15, but she's volunteering for Maloney, handing out flyers outside a fancy cosmetics store right alongside the congresswoman herself.

MALONEY: Well, it's good to see all of you. Thank you for coming out.

HIRSCH: Maloney talks about the Supreme Court that has, quote, "bulldozed women's rights into the ground." Here's the congresswoman.

MALONEY: My daughter's here. I never thought that I would have my daughter have less rights than the rights that I had when I was her age. We need to reverse that. And only women fight hard as hell for other women.

HIRSCH: There's also a third candidate running. Suraj Patel used to work as an aide for former President Barack Obama. He came within 4 percentage points of beating Maloney back in 2020. Now he's hoping to unseat both incumbents in an upset. The winner is expected to take the House seat in November, since the district leans so heavily Democratic. But no matter the outcome, Democrats will lose at least one of their senior leaders in Congress. For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zach Hirsch