Will Right-Wing Super PAC Topple Rangel?

After funding primary upsets in both parties, a right-wing group is taking aim at the New York lawmaker.

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Rep. Charles Rangel faces a primary challenge in 2012. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- A ham-handed attempt by a super PAC to shake things up in the Democratic primary in New York's 13th congressional district has raised charges of "conspiracy" and outside meddling from supporters of longtime incumbent Charles Rangel.

The funding group, Campaign for Primary Accountability, says that it intends to throw its weight -- and money -- behind Rangel's main challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Principal donors to the PAC -- which says its focus is on ousting entrenched congressional incumbents, regardless of political party or ideological bent, who seldom get challenged in primary elections -- are conservative Republicans, including a bevy of Texas businessmen and financiers.

A spokesman for Espaillat, a liberal Democrat who has served in the New York State Senate for 14 years, said that his candidate had no prior knowledge of the group's involvement in the campaign. "Senator Espaillat's campaign has no information about this or any other PAC's decision to target Congressman Rangel for defeat," said Ibrahim Khan. The primary is scheduled for June 26.

Rangel's campaign manager, Moises Perez, says that the super PAC is a front for "Texas right-wingers" who have a vendetta against the congressman. Rangel, who has represented Harlem and much of upper Manhattan in Congress for 41 years, has been outspoken in support of liberal causes, such as increased aid to veterans, economic programs to assist beleaguered cities and the Obama health care program.

Super PAC spokesman Curtis Ellis describes it as "the equalizer," seeking to balance the scales in primary elections where longtime incumbents like Rangel often receive little or no opposition from members of their own parties. "We're working to increase participation by voters, to inform them of how important it is to vote in a primary," Ellis says. "The incumbents have all the advantages in the primary, with access to lobbyists, corporate donations and money from PACs."

He adds that Rangel, having been in office for so long, has the additional advantage of widespread "name recognition."

"Everybody over the age of 12 has heard the name of Charles Rangel," Ellis says.

Rangel, 81, faces a more difficult challenge than usual in this year's primary, after being censured for ethics violations last year and consequently losing the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He is running in a remapped district with a larger Hispanic population than was previously the case. Espaillat, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, is seeking to capitalize on the demographic shift.

Also running are Harlem activists Craig Schley and Joyce Johnson, as well as former Democratic National Committee official Clyde Williams.

It is widely assumed that the 21-term congressman will retire after one final term, serving as a kind of victory lap for Rangel (though much the same was said in 2010). He has had recent health problems, including a back condition for which he was hospitalized in March. He missed some 100 House votes because of his three-month absence this year.

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