The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New York City community organizer, in a House Democratic primary produced a scene that immediately qualified her as the most visibly stunned winner of 2018:
Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists, was not the only one left speechless by her defeat of 20-year incumbent Joseph Crowley, who dreamed of becoming speaker of the House. Her win is probably the year’s biggest US election upset.
Less certain is whether Ocasio-Cortez’s win means mainstream Democrats across the US—including New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who harbors presidential ambitions and faces a September primary against the progressive Cynthia Nixon (paywall)—are vulnerable to challenges from the left. Bernie Sanders supporters certainly hope it does: Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer for his 2016 presidential campaign.
Few saw Crowley’s defeat coming. The Queens County party boss—backed by real-estate, corporate, lobbying and Wall Street interests—had at one point raised 10 times more campaign cash than Ocasio-Cortez. New York’s 14th district is in the overwhelmingly Democratic boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, where winning the primary all but assures taking the seat in the November midterm election.
Last night (June 26), as it became clear to even Ocasio-Cortez that she would win big, local cable outlet NY1 caught her shock. Her long-shot effort had drawn national interest from Democrats looking to move their party away from the establishment path represented by Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and toward policies, including Medicare for all, championed by Sanders.
Just two days before the primary, Ocasio-Cortez left her campaign in the hands of grassroots supporters and traveled to Texas to highlight her opposition to the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families at the border with Mexico. She had already called for the elimination of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a federal agency.
In the weeks prior, Ocasio-Cortez’s journey from working-class activist to congressional candidate attracted wider attention when a campaign video designed for social distribution went viral.
So it was somewhat fitting that images of Ocasio-Cortez’s absolute joy as she saw the results come in would become a social phenomenon as well.