About Last Night: Ocasio-Cortez Unseats Crowley in NY-14
Rep. Joe Crowley had himself a whisper campaign going for leadership, and perhaps held thoughts of becoming Speaker of the House if the much discussed “blue wave” came ashore just right in November. Instead, he finds himself being compared to Eric Cantor on the list of stunning incumbent upsets:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina running her first campaign, ousted 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district on Tuesday, CNN projects, in the most shocking upset of a rollicking political season.
An activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Ocasio-Cortez won over voters in the minority-majority district with a ruthlessly efficient grassroots bid, even as Crowley — the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House — outraised her by a 10-to-1 margin.
This was the first time in 14 years a member of his own party has attempted to unseat Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democrats. His defeat marks a potential sea change in the broader sphere of liberal politics — a result with implications for Democrats nationwide that would recall, as optimistic progressives routinely noted during the campaign, former GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss to the insurgent, tea party-backed Dave Brat in June 2014.
So, now that Ocasio-Cortez appears to be on her way to the House, how did she get this far? And what will she do once she is there?
She wasn’t inclined to back House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker, name-checking one of the House’s most left-wing members as a better choice.
“I’d like to see new leadership, but I don’t even know what our options are,” she said. “I mean, is Barbara Lee running? Call me when she does!”
Ocasio-Cortez’s politics are substantially to the left of most of the party, and even Sanders. In her campaign videos and posters, designed by friends from New York’s socialist circles, she came out for the abolition of ICE, universal Medicare, a federal jobs guarantee and free college tuition. The ads also made it clear that she was a different candidate — a young Latina from the Bronx, not a white man from Queens. The posters, which she said were designed to look “revolutionary,” were bilingual and centered her face; her viral campaign video, created by a socialist team called Means of Production, began with her saying that “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office” over an image of her getting ready for the day in a busy apartment building.
“The only time we create any kind of substantive change is when we reach out to a disaffected electorate and inspire and motivate them to vote,” Ocasio-Cortez told the left-wing magazine In These Times, in one of many interviews she gave as her campaign seemed to surge in the final weeks. “That is how Obama won and got reelected, and that’s how Bernie Sanders did so well.”
In interviews last week, as Ocasio-Cortez canvassed voters in Queens, she said her campaign began with grass-roots organizers and took off once national left-wing media noticed what she was doing. An early profile in the Intercept, she said, was “a game-changer,” leading to more interviews and profiles that led with the audacity of her challenge, then got to her policies. By the final week of the campaign, when she briefly left the state to see conditions at immigrant detention centers in Texas, she was updating Vogue on how the campaign was going.
In an interview given to John Iadarola days before the election to, Ocasio-Cortez opines on her campaign and opponent, and in describing Crowley as out of touch and no longer living in the district, you can see the Cantor comparisons.
Well-earned as the plaudits for an underdog winning may be, excitement from the progressive left over Ocasio-Cortez success may be getting just a bit ahead of itself. NY14 is a +29 Democrat district, and the “New York socialist circles” that facilitate things like media assistance and Vogue write-ups is not translatable to, say, Wisconsin or Iowa. Safely Democrat seat is still safely Democrat, but the aging leadership on the left side of the aisle in Congress (Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn are 78, 79, 77 years old, respectively) makes for a sharp contrast from the younger, rising progressives that see them as “establishment”. There is also the still smoldering “Bernie wing vs Hillary wing” narrative that former Sanders supporter and volunteer Ocasio-Corte openly embraces.
Still, at least for one night in NYC, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has a young, charismatic, card-carrying democratic socialist with a mark in the win column, and a clear path to congress.