In one of the most shocking upsets in recent political history, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toppled Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District on Tuesday night. And it wasn’t even close. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Ocasio-Cortez led by over 15 points.
The result, which immediately drew comparisons to the 2014 defeat of Eric Cantor by Rep. David Brat in Virginia, helped solidify the notion that challengers from the left can actually compete in Democratic primaries.
Crowley, currently part of the party’s House leadership team and widely considered a front-runner to the next Speaker should Democrats retake it in November, has been in office since 1999. He has also been the chair of the Queens County Democratic Party since 2006.
Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who backs Medicare for All and the abolishment of ICE, was previously an organizer on the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders Tuesday night praised her “extraordinary upset victory,” saying that “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do."
Ocasio-Cortez politics were noticeably to the left of Democratic party leadership on a number of issues, including Israel. She was outraised by a 10-1 margin in her first run for political office. In a recent debate, Ocasio-Cortez also joined a growing cadre of Democratic challengers in saying that she wasn’t certain she’d support Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Crowley was certain he would.
Nevertheless, Pelosi congratulated the insurgent Democrat on the win.
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Ocasio-Cortez was lifted by a viral ad produced by two Democratic Socialists of America members from Michigan. In it, the 28-year-old says “It’s time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same; that a Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, does not drink our water, does not breathe our air, cannot possibly represent us.”
On Tuesday, that time came.
Only about 20,000 voters participated in the district’s primary election, one of several around the state for Congressional races. Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise win could be an indicator of the Democratic energy on the left in New York, as Cynthia Nixon mounts a challenge against two-term Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo in a separate primary in September.
Nixon endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the final week of the campaign and on Tuesday congratulated her saying: “This is a victory for the people over the powerful, for the grassroots over the establishment, for progressive Democrats over corporate Democrats.”
Ocasio-Cortez was not the only primary challenger for a long entrenched New York Democrats. Rep. Yvette Clarke, who represents New York’s 9th Congressional District, is narrowly leading her challenger Adem Bunkeddeko by just a few hundred votes.
The result was not so close for the other two incumbents facing primary challengers. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) of New York’s Manhattan-based 12th Congressional District handily beat back a challenge from Suraj Patel, a 34-year-old hotel owner last seen trying to pick up voters on Tinder . Similarly Rep. Eliot Engel, of New York’s 16th Congressional District, defeated challenger Jonathan Lewis with a commanding 74 percent of the vote.
In Crowley’s concession statement, he congratulated Ocasio-Cortez and said he looked forward to supporting her. He played “Born to Run” on an acoustic guitar, dedicating his performance to the candidate who’d just defeated him.
As he was speaking, President Trump offered a Tweet suggesting the young socialist had won because the old party boss had been too mean:
“Wow! Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election,” the president wrote.
“In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!”