‘We won because we organized. We won because we had a very clear, winning message, and we took that message to doors that had never been knocked on before.’
Twenty-eight-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in the New York primary elections is a powerful boost for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
On paper, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina activist from the Bronx, a New York City borough, with virtually no political experience, stood little chance of securing the Democratic nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives. “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” she says in an online campaign video in which she presents herself as a candidate who stands up to the establishment of her own party.
But on Tuesday, completely unexpectedly, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley, a prominent Democratic Party veteran who has been in Congress for 19 years, in a primary for the safe Democratic seat. The 56-year-old Crowley was seen as a top contender to succeed Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives following November’s midterm elections, when the Democrats hope to be in the majority.
Instead, Crowley, who raised more than 10 times as much money as his young challenger, suffered a painful defeat: Ocasio-Cortez, a former campaign staffer for the left-leaning former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, won the battle for the nomination in the extremely diverse electoral district with about 57 percent of the vote, versus around 42 percent for Crowley.
The resounding victory by Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is a powerful boost for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is eager to take on the Republicans under Donald Trump. Her decisive victory is indicative of divisions between the moderate and left wings of the party over the question of how the Democrats should position themselves against Trump in the run-up to the November midterms: as a moderate alternative or as a party of fierce opposition.
Ocasio-Cortez, who grew up in the Bronx with a Puerto Rican mother, advocates left-leaning positions, from a $15 an hour minimum wage to universal healthcare. She also calls for the abolition of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that is being blamed for the separation of immigrant families on the U.S. southern border without appropriate oversight. That is a controversial position that Sanders shies away from.
Furthermore, Ocasio-Cortez supports, in principle, the impeachment of President Trump – a complicated position among Democrats who believe that vehement opposition to Trump is not enough in itself for the Democrats to achieve a breakthrough in the November elections. Although those positions resonate in her progressive district in New York, it is questionable whether that is also the case for more moderate districts in other parts of the country.
Minorities and Young People
Above all, Ocasio-Cortez represents constituents who often feel forgotten by the Democratic Party, including minorities and young people. Along with Sanders and a number of other candidates, she refuses political donations from special interest groups and criticizes the role of big money in political campaigns. It was precisely her direct contact with numerous constituents that was the decisive factor in her surprising victory, she believes. She portrayed Crowley as a career politician who is rarely present in the district and who has little connection with it.
“We won because we organized. We won because we had a very clear, winning message, and we took that message to doors that had never been knocked on before,” said Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with CNN. “We spoke to communities that had typically been dismissed and they responded … I am proud to bring to Congress an additional perspective and a lens towards what the future of the Democratic Party may be.”