Ocasio-Cortez faces first reelection test as progressives work to maintain their movement
Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the newest political figure everyone loves or loves to hate. From her ‘Green New Deal’ proposal to combat climate change to her clapbacks against Trump and her critics, here’s how AOC danced her way into the spotlight. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed her seat in the House of Representatives after challenging a long-time incumbent with a message of shaking up the status quo.
Now, she faces her own outsider challenger in the the first electoral test of her congressional tenure.
The New York Democrat knows the primary process well: Her upset victory over Joe Crowley – a member of House leadership who was thought to be in line for speaker – allowed her to gain a massive following after the 2018 midterm election. She is turn has used that following to champion her progressive ideals, her own legislation and pressure House leadership on major issues over her term.
But the primary Tuesday marks the first test for the freshman and fellow members of the Squad. Three out of the group of four women of color, who over their first two years in office have become some of the most sought-after voices inthe progressive wing, are facing primary challenges ahead of the November election. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is on the ballot Aug. 4, and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is on the ballot Aug. 10.
“Every lawmaker's reelection and their race for sophomore year, so to speak, is always the biggest test because it is a test of how deep and long your roots go with the people who are voting for you, and how much you've been able to win and maintain their trust,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist based in New York, adding that a lawmaker's first reelection fight “is always going to be your most intense.”
Ocasio-Cortez's House race is also one of several primaries where new progressive stars are being forced to defend their seats from fellow Democrats running closer to the center. Her race and others may offer new insight into voters' perceptions of the progressive wing of the party months after progressive icon Sen. Bernie Sanders was bested by a more moderate Democrat, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the presidential nominating battle.
Ocasio-Cortez's rise also has many looking to the district just north of hers on Tuesday, where House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel faces a fierce primary challenge that has led to a divide among Democrats. High-profile progressives, including Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Ocasio-Cortez, have endorsed his opponent, Jamaal Bowman. Former presidential contender Hillary Clinton and a host of congressional Democrats have raced to back Engel – marking another battle between progressives eager for a win and establishment Democrats seeking to keep the high-level, 16-term congressman in place.
Notoriety, feud with Trump plays role
In Ocasio-Cortez’s district, she will face three challengers, including former journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who has raised about $2 million. Still, Ocasio-Cortez has remained a popular figure in the district and one of the House’s biggest fundraisers with $10.5 million raised.