Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old who’s never held elected office, ousted New York City Congressman Joe Crowley. Crowley had been considered a candidate to become House speaker if Democrats win the majority in November. (June 27) AP
The message 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered in a web video last month may not have been specifically about federal issues, but it went viral and struck a chord in the diverse New York City district where she beat 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
“After 20 years of the same representation, we have to ask: Who has New York been changing for?” Ocasio-Cortez said as Crowley was shown on the screen.
“Every day gets harder for working families like mine to get by. The rent gets higher, health care covers less, and our income stays the same. It’s clear that these changes haven’t been for us, and we deserve a champion,” she said.
It’s not that Crowley, 56, had ever been considered a conservative. He was potentially in line to succeed California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats’ leader next term, and in a tweet gloating about Crowley’s loss, President Donald Trump called him a “Big Trump Hater.”
But in a climate where some liberals want Democrats to use every tactic available to resist Trump – and were angered they agreed to end a government shutdown in January without ensuring protection for young undocumented immigrants – Crowley, as the No. 4 Democratic leader in the House, was painted as part of the establishment.
Ocasio-Cortez ran on a platform promising paid family leave, Medicare for All, a universal government jobs guarantee, justice reform to “demilitarize our police,” and abolishing ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
“I was the only candidate in the race that did not take corporate money in a time when economic marginalization is really increasing in New York City,” Ocasio-Cortez said Wednesday on the program “CBS This Morning.” “So I think that created a lot of trust in our community and our message really inspired a lot of folks that don’t usually turn out in an off-year midterm primary.”
Though Ocasio-Cortez had been an organizer on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, it was her first run for office. Many of her campaign workers were also new to the process, inspired by Trump to get involved through grass-roots organizing efforts such as the Indivisible Project.
“They were new to the political system, and that mindset is really important to this moment. The knocked on doors, they made phone calls. They reached out to people who are often dismissed as infrequent voters,” said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the Indivisible Project.
The district also changed since 1998, when Crowley was first tapped by his predecessor to run for the seat. Back then, the 14th District was 28 percent Hispanic, according to the Almanac of American Politics.
Under the lines drawn after the 2010 Census, that figure was more than 50 percent. More than 45 percent of the district is also younger than 35, and Ocasio-Cortez, if she wins in November, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
“The future of the Democratic Party isn’t old white men, it’s people of color, it’s youth,” Levin said.
Republican campaign operatives seized on Ocasio-Cortez’s support for government health insurance and job guarantees, and her call for eliminating immigration enforcement, as a way to motivate their own supporters.
“If there was any doubt that their party has moved drastically to the left, Democrats just elected a self-avowed socialist over the current chair of the House Democratic Caucus,” Michael Ahrens, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in an email Tuesday night. “Just wait until 2020.”
Crowley not only became the highest-ranking House member to lose a primary since Republicans rejected Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in 2014, he was also the first Democrat to be turned aside in this election cycle. But Crowley had not faced a primary in more than a decade, so having to turn out his base was not as routine as it is for some other politicians.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said he asked Crowley at a Mets game in Queens two weeks ago if he might need any help, since Crowley had helped others in the region in the past.
“He thought that he had handle on the election, that he knew what he had to do,” Pascrell said. “He knew there were changing demographics, but he felt he had compensated for that. I believed him.”
Pascrell said he was surprised at how low the turnout was. Unofficial returns tallied by The Associated Press showed that with 98 percent of precincts counted, Ocasio-Cortez had 15,897 votes to Crowley’s 11,761
“There’s a lot of angry people, angry with both Republicans and Democrats, and a lot of first-time voters who voted in the 14th District. I think that had a lot to do with this.”
Pascrell rejected the suggestion Crowley wasn’t doing his job for the district, and rejected the suggestion Crowley had surrendered in January when Democrats agreed to help reopen the government without getting a vote on protecting young immigrants.
“Joe fought harder than anybody I know in the New York or New Jersey delegation. That’s a bad rap,” Pascrell said.
But Pascrell said Ocasio-Cortez worked hard for the win.
“Any career can be ended on a random Tuesday night,” Pascrell said, praising the way Crowley congratulated Ocasio-Cortez and said he hoped for her victory in the fall.
Ocasio-Cortez, who touted her refusal to accept contributions from corporate political action committees, raised $310,000 and spent $207,000 through June 6.
A large portion of her fundraising came in the final weeks before the election, with about $234,000 raised from April 1 through June 6.
She had a few celebrity donors, most notably actress and producer Susan Sarandon and the husband-wife television writing team of Neal Marlens and Carol Black, whose credits include “Growing Pains” and “The Wonder Years.”