Seven months ago, 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was pouring customers’ drinks at a local New York City restaurant. Now, she is one easy November election away from being inducted as a freshman Democratic congresswoman representing a sliver of territory from the eastern Bronx to northern Queens.
Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory over incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley last night wasn’t supposed to happen. Crowley, a 10-term congressman first elected in 1999, easily breezes to re-elections every two years. Crowley is such a fixture in Democratic Party politics that he was practically the president of Queens. Ocasio-Cortez was the kind of challenger that Crowley should have easily dispensed with; a young, upstart political novice with more experience on the picket line than on the stump. Crowley was the Chairman of the House Democratic conference who could have succeeded Nancy Pelosi as one of the nation’s two top Democrats (the other being Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, another New York politico). As a Democratic Socialist and Bernie Sanders activist, Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t be any different from the buttoned up Queens native who has spent his entire adult life in the political maelstrom.
Democratic voters in New York’s 14th district decided to throw old “Joey” out of office, seniority be damned. Ocasio-Cortez was just too energetic for the Queens party boss – not even a 10 to 1 cash advantage and the bells-and-whistles of a 20 year incumbency couldn’t stop her.
Last night’s shocker in New York is not confined to the district. Ocasio-Cortez’s trouncing of Crowley (she won by 14 percentage points) is a national earthquake that will reverberate to the very top of the Democratic Party hierarchy in Washington. One House Democratic leadership aide described it to BuzzFeed News this way: “I can’t believe this is real life.”
Career politicos like Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, who have dominated the House Democratic Caucus for the last 15 years, will now face more calls from younger rank-and-file members to make way for new blood. While no one is predicting a Pelosi loss at the ballot box anytime soon, there has been an undercurrent within the party sweeping her off balance ever since Democrats put up a pathetic display in the 2016 elections. Sixty-three House Democrats voted against her continuation as Minority Leader shortly after that election. The defeat of Pelosi’s most loyal lieutenant to a youthful, arch progressive, millennial activist will provide more grist for the anti-Pelosi mill.