In a shocking upset over a 10-term incumbent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina running her first campaign, beat Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district Tuesday night.
Ocasio-Cortez's stunning win came on the back of an unapologetically progressive, grassroots campaign pledging “economic, social, and racial justice” for working-class Americans. "This is the start of a movement," she tweeted.
The political novice, a former Bernie Sanders volunteer and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won with a 57.5 percent majority over 56-year-old Crowley, a powerful and well-funded Democratic veteran who pulled just 42.5 percent of the vote. Her victory, channeling the frustrations of urban voters, marked the first challenge Crowley, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, had faced from within his own party in 14 years, and could herald a sea change in Democratic politics.
Ocasio-Cortez campaigned to the left of her rival, denouncing President Trump, calling for the abolition of ICE, and protesting at a Texas immigration detention center days before the vote.
“This is the beginning because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it's not OK to put donors before your community,” Ocasio-Cortez told supporters during her victory speech Tuesday night. During the campaign, she touted her grassroots funding largely from people donating less than $200 each, vs. Crowley's deeper-pocketed donors.
If Ocasio-Cortez defeats Republican Anthony Pappas in November midterms — which is all but guaranteed in the Democratic stronghold — she will become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Who is Ocasio-Cortez?
The community organizer was born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of working-class Puerto Rican parents.
After graduating with a degree in economics and international relations from Boston University in 2011, she began working as educational director for the National Hispanic Institute, a nonprofit that works to build leadership among Latino youth. She also took low-wage jobs as a waitress and bartender to help support her family. She retweeted a photo Tuesday showing her still tending bar as recently as November.
Ocasio-Cortez worked as an organizer on the Sanders campaign in 2016, and after watching Trump’s election, decided to run in her district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, to gain representation for progressive women of color.
“I was born in a place where your zip code determined your destiny,” she said in a campaign video. “Women like me aren't supposed to run for office.”
What does she stand for?
Ocasio-Cortez ran a progressive campaign, calling for the abolition of ICE, Medicare for all, criminal justice reform, a universal jobs guarantee, and tuition-free college funded by taxes on Wall Street.
She criticized Crowley for his ties to Wall Street and for being out of touch with his constituents, some 70 percent of whom are people of colour.
On Sunday, she travelled to child detention camps in Texas, tweeting that she had confronted border officers there. “I spoke directly to him. I saw his sense of guilt. We can dismantle this.”
After her victory Tuesday, she tweeted: “I look forward to working towards a takeback of the House on a strong platform of economic, social, and racial justice for working-class New Yorkers & Americans.”
What’s the reaction to her victory?
Her shock win, over a powerful opponent who outraised her by a 10-to-1 margin and had been viewed as a potential next Speaker of the House, drew an ecstatic reaction from supporters in the 14th District, stunning even the candidate herself.
“I cannot put this into words,” she told Spectrum News NY1 as she learned of the results. “I cannot believe these numbers right now, but I do know that every single person here has worked their butt off to change the future of the Bronx and Queens… and that this victory belongs to every single grassroots organizer, every working parent, every mom, every member of the LGBTQ community, every single person is responsible for this.”
Pundits have seen the win as a sign of frustration in the Democratic base with the party establishment, and a reflection of the desire for more diverse representation in the Capitol.
The stunning upset even drew comment from Donald Trump, who framed the demise of “Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley” as a result of his failure to respect Trump. “That is a big one that nobody saw happening,” he tweeted. “Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!”
Cover image: Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is joined by New York gubenatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon at her victory party in the Bronx after upsetting incumbent Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley on June 26, 2018 in New York City. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)