The Slatest

Black Lives Matter Activist Upsets 10-Term Democratic Congressman in Primary

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush celebrates at her campaign office.
Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush celebrates at her campaign office on Tuesday in St. Louis. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

The latest in a string of progressive candidates unseating deeply entrenched Democratic incumbents came from the state of Missouri on Tuesday where activist Cori Bush unseated 10-term congressman William Lacy Clay Jr. The 44-year-old nurse entered politics in the aftermath of the 2014 Ferguson protests and, after two failed attempts at running for office, pulled off a stunning victory over Clay, who had taken over the seat from his father before him. Bush’s victory brings to an end the Clay family’s 50-year hold on the seat in the heavily Democratic district.*


That means Bush will likely be the first Black woman to represent the state of Missouri in Congress. Before Tuesday’s victory, Bush’s transformation from activist into a winning candidate took a few turns: She mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the state Senate in 2016 and ran for Congress in 2018, losing to Clay by 20 points. During that race, Bush was featured in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House that followed a handful of progressive women running for office, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

This time around, Bush raised far more money and amid national protests over the killing of George Floyd, rode a wave of Democratic enthusiasm for more progressive candidates primarying established incumbents. Following in Ocasio-Cortez’s footsteps, Marie Newman unseated conservative Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois earlier this year and Jamaal Bowman ousted longtime New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel.

Correction, Aug. 5, 2020: This post originally misstated that the Clay family had held the seat for 40 years. Clay and his father have represented the district since 1969.