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, CNN projects, in the most shocking upset of a rollicking political season.
Ocasio-Cortez, an activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won over voters in the minority-majority district with a ruthlessly efficient grassroots bid, even as Crowley — the fourth-ranked Democrat in the House — outraised her by a 10-to-1 margin.
This was the first time in 14 years a Democrat has attempted unseat Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democrats. His defeat marks a potential sea change in party 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.
Even as Ocasio-Cortez runs defiantly to his left — with universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee and the abolition of ICE headlining her demands — Crowley leaned on what was a formidable liberal record. He was the first member of the House Democratic leadership to sign on in support of "Medicare for all" and has been a vocal advocate for immigrants’ rights. But Crowley stumbled repeatedly on the campaign trail, the likely residue of going so long without a primary test.
Citing scheduling conflicts, he missed a debate in the Bronx with Ocasio-Cortez, sending former city councilwoman Annabel Palma as a surrogate. The New York Times editorial board took note of his no-show, and warned the ambitious congressman against taking his constituents for granted.
"What are we," the board asked on behalf of voters, "chopped liver?"
In an interview, Ocasio-Cortez called his absence that night "disrespectful, not just to me but to the entire community." On Twitter after the debate, she noted that Palma, also Latina, bore a "slight resemblance to me."
Ocasio-Cortez has also been at the front lines — literally so, last weekend, when she traveled to join protests at an ICE detention center in Texas — of the progressive backlash against the Trump administration’s border and immigration policies. Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal proponent of the push to abolish the agency, an issue she ties back to her district’s diverse population.
"We have families and communities here (in the 14th District) from Ecuador and Colombia, Bangladesh, Korea, Pakistan, and I see them every day, many of them are very scared about what’s going on," she said. "With my campaign, in terms of immigration, we’re trying to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back.’"
Crowley also targeted ICE, calling it "fascist," but stopping short of demanding its elimination. During a televised debate with Ocasio-Cortez less than two weeks before the primary, Crowley argued that "simply abolishing the agency doesn’t take it out of the hands of (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions or this president."
He then pivoted to what had been a driving theme of his campaign — the argument that, with Trump in office, Democrats should lean on experienced lawmakers, and away from more ideological firebrands, to navigate the opposition on Capitol Hill.
"It’s about making change in Washington," said Crowley, who in his leadership role has raised money for Democrats around the country. "It’s about Democrats taking back control of the House of Representatives — and that’s what I’m about doing."
It is a logic that Democrats, in particular those facing capable progressive challenges, will certainly be rethinking as Capitol Hill digests the outcome.