Politics & Government

Tuesday night shocker: Next generation of Dems pushing party leaders aside

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., departs the House of Representatives for the weekend following final votes on Friday, June 15, 2018.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., departs the House of Representatives for the weekend following final votes on Friday, June 15, 2018. AP Photo

Progressives have been warning party leaders that a new generation of Democrats -- more liberal, less white and younger -- was materializing in America. On Tuesday, it became true.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, scored a stunning congressional primary upset, defeating 56-year-old Rep. Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a politician who hasn’t faced a serious primary challenge for years.

It marks the biggest congressional primary upset against a party leader since Republican Eric Cantor’s loss in Virginia in 2014. And it’s a win that will reverberate across the political landscape as Democrats race to respond to voter demands for more progressive candidates.

"Every election has its own dynamic, but this one seems volcanic," said former Rep. Steve Israel, himself a one-time New York congressman who once chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

With 88 percent of the vote counted, Ocasio-Cortez led Crowley by an astounding 15 points in New York's 14th Congressional District, located in the Queens and Bronx boroughs.

The race had received national attention in recent weeks, as a test of whether a candidate such as Ocasio-Cortez — a Hispanic socialist with no institutional party support — could topple a longtime incumbent. But few expected that Crowley, seen potentially as a future House speaker, could actually lose.

The race drew immediate comparisons to Cantor's defeat to then little-known challenger Dave Brat. In that race, Cantor lost to a challenger who challenged his more-moderate positions on immigration.

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Ocasio-Cortez had a different critique for Crowley, arguing that he was no longer representative of a district that was majority non-white while touting her own support for far-reaching liberal policies such as Medicare for All and free tuition at public universities.

"A New York for the many is possible," Ocasio-Cortez said in one of her campaign ads."It’s time to vote for one of us."

The race was already drawing shocked reaction from Democratic lawmakers and leaders, many of whom must now reassess if they too can fall prey to a liberal challenger. In particular, the results could worry supporters of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who faces a primary challenge from actress and progressive activist Cynthia Nixon later this year.

"There is a lot of turbulence in the party now," said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. "Won’t be resolved at least until the 2020 nomination process."

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