Meanwhile, Espaillat has the backing of two influential former Bronx borough presidents: Fernando Ferrer, the Democratic nominee for New York City mayor in 2005, and Adolfo Carrión, who served as a director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs under President Barack Obama.
In an interview, Carrión repeatedly underlined that he admired Rangel.
“But just like everything else, there is always a time for change,” he said. “I think that at this time in New York City’s history, with 42 years of a legacy, a very solid legislative foundation poured ... there’s a solid platform for the next generation. What we have in Espaillat is the personality that turns the page.”
Rangel’s Harlem-based district has changed since he was first elected in 1970. Then, 72 percent of district residents were black; for this election, just less than 36 percent are.
The district has also changed since Rangel was elected in 2010. A federal court took charge of redistricting and redrew the seat to be less favorable for him, adding in a portion of the Bronx.
Forty-six percent of Rangel’s current district is Hispanic. That number ticks up to more than 55 percent under the new lines of the 13th district.
That demographic shift could give Espaillat, a Dominican-American and former state Assemblyman, a boost.
But the voting universe in a low-turnout summer primary might not reflect those demographics. And much will depend on each campaign’s ability to get out the vote, especially among their base supporters in a five-way Democratic race. An important get for Espaillat would be the endorsement of the New York Times, which has the potential to swing a substantial swath of voters in the district.
In New York City, where broadcast television is prohibitively expensive, direct mail is a main method of voter persuasion, and paid field operations are also considered essential to a winning campaign.
“It remains to be seen what Adriano’s operation is going to look like on Election Day,” Smikle said, noting that endorsements only really move the needle in an election like this if they come with a ground organization.
At the end of April, Rangel had $226,000 in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Espaillat didn’t begin fundraising until late March, so his report reflects only a few days of donations.
Another factor in this race: The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a nonpartisan super PAC that targets incumbents, is devoting some of its significant resources to supporting Espaillat.
“It’s safe to say we will be spending in the six-figure range,” CPA spokesman Curtis Ellis said. “And we will be using radio, mail, online and targeted ethnic media and direct voter contact to reach the voters that need to be reached.”
Whatever happens on the ground in New York City, Rangel doesn’t seem likely to get the biggest endorsement of all.
Asked at a press conference this month whether Obama would support Rangel, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Obama did not endorse Rangel in 2010, in the midst of the Congressman’s ethics trial, but he said he hoped Rangel could “end his career with dignity.”
James Jones, communications director for DC Vote, tapes a "DC Constituents Service Day" sign on the wall as he stands with other DC residents outside of Rep. Andy Harris's office on Capitol Hill to protest Harris' actions against D.C.'s marijuana laws on Thursday, July 24, 2014. DC Vote encouraged DC residents to bring their complaints about city services to the Maryland congressman.