New York Democrats Looking At Potential Challengers To Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has managed to become a media star, but she has a lot to learn about politics.

In the time since she beat veteran Democrat Joseph Crowley in the 2018 Democratic primary, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has drawn media attention both from mainstream news outlets and, especially, the conservative news media for the role she has assumed as the seeming leader of a new generation of House Democrats. In the process, though the freshman Democrats has managed to step on a significant number of toes inside her own party, including powerful members of the New York Congressional Delegation, and that is leading to speculation that party insiders may seek to recruit a primary challenger to run against her in 2020:

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has infuriated colleagues by aligning with a progressive outside group that’s threatening to primary entrenched Democrats. Now some of those lawmakers are turning the tables on her and are discussing recruiting a primary challenger to run against the social media sensation.

At least one House Democrat has been privately urging members of the New York delegation to recruit a local politician from the Bronx or Queens to challenge Ocasio-Cortez.

“What I have recommended to the New York delegation is that you find her a primary opponent and make her a one-term congressperson,” the Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told The Hill. “You’ve got numerous council people and state legislators who’ve been waiting 20 years for that seat. I’m sure they can find numerous people who want that seat in that district.”

The New York delegation has eyed Ocasio-Cortez with skepticism ever since last summer when the 29-year-old self-described democratic socialist shocked the political world and defeated then-Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in what many thought would be a sleepy primary race. Crowley, a Queens powerbroker and affable House Democratic Caucus chairman, had been considered a possible future Speaker.

Many New York and Congressional Black Caucus lawmakers were also furious with Ocasio-Cortez after a recent Politico report stated she and the grass-roots group aligned with her, Justice Democrats, were considering backing a primary challenge to fellow New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, a Black Caucus member and establishment insider who succeeded Crowley as caucus chairman.

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats have denied the report, but the group of insurgent progressives has vowed to target centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and is eyeing other potential 2020 targets.

For now, New York Democratic lawmakers are playing nice with Ocasio-Cortez and her 2.6 million Twitter followers and say no one in the Empire State’s delegation is currently contemplating backing a primary challenger against her.

“We are going to see what happens. Generally for me, I’m giving folks the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence. You might say one thing before you get in here, and then after you get to meet folks, you see what happens and how the body works … things are different, so we’ll see what happens,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), whose district includes part of Queens, said in an interview.

(…)

[I]t’s not just Black Caucus members she has rubbed the wrong way. Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico, has also annoyed members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus by targeting one of their own: Cuellar. Earlier this month, she appeared in a Justice Democrats promotional video with her spokesman, Corbin, and her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, touting a program recruiting progressive insurgents to run for Congress.

Justice Democrats is currently searching for a progressive to launch a primary challenge against Cuellar. Hispanic Caucus members aren’t happy about those efforts but say they are taking a wait-and-see approach before intervening with Ocasio-Cortez, who joined the caucus this month.

It’s far too early in the process to be talking about whether or not Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC” as she’s come to be known on social media, could be vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020, however these early reports are a good indication of the fact that, notwithstanding her media celebrity, the freshman Congresswoman does have a lot to learn when it comes to surviving on Capitol Hill. Social media and an admittedly aggressive personality that speaks to millennials and other disaffected voters have served her well in making her a media star but she is, in the end only 1/435th of the House of Representatives, and a relatively powerless Freshman at that. Were it not for the fact that her party is currently in control of the House of Representatives, she would be just one voice in a minority crowd. Being with the majority party, though, doesn’t necessarily help her either since it means that some of the people she’s already managed to cross swords with, such as Congressman Jeffries, are more powerful than they would be if Democrats were in the minority and thus have more control over just how much she is able to do in her first term in office, which isn’t going to be much in any case.

Like several other commentators, my advice to Ocasio-Cortez from the beginning has been very simple. Notwithstanding her media stardom, she needs to recognize that she is a relatively powerless Member of Congress at the moment and that advancing to the point where she is going to actually be able to accomplish anything means learning how to work within the rules of the House, both written and unwritten. Part of that includes not stepping on the toes of those in more powerful positions than she is. This is especially true in New York, where there are any number of Democrats in the Bronx and Queens who might be willing to challenge her if they had the backing of those that Ocasio-Cortez seems intent on challenging herself. The best thing she could do would be to cool down, act in accordance with her position in the caucus, and perhaps actually learn how things actually work on Capitol Hill rather than assuming she can walk in the door and rewrite the rules on her own.

FILED UNDER: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Campaign 2020, Congress, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I worry about AOC getting too far out over her skis, but I’d worry far more about any NY Democrat who wanted to take her on.

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  2. Pylon says:

    No one is going to challenge her. There is griping, but two things will happen. One, she will calm down a bit as the job gets going and the various competing pressures become more real. Two, the complainers will realize that they are harming the party and that they have an opportunity to take advantage of her popularity and outreach. Give her some meaningful role in Congress and see what happens.

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  3. I think the bigger issues are three-fold:

    1. AOC may be a good fit for the solid blue district that she represents, but that doesn’t mean that her direction is the one that the Democratic Party as a whole needs to move in 2020 if it’s going to win the White House back

    2. Regardless of the fact that she beat Crowley last June, the old rules of politics still apply and she could learn in 2020 that if she pushes too hard against the New York Democratic Party machine, and especially against someone as powerful as Congressman Jeffries, they will push back.

    3. While, like many millennials I have run into from both sides of the political aisle, she thinks she has all the answers, she needs to learn that she is not nearly as powerful as she might think she is.

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  4. Neil J Hudelson says:

    You’ve got numerous council people and state legislators who’ve been waiting 20 years for that seat.

    Always a winning message “As an entrenched insider, I deserve this seat.”

    This article repeatedly asserts (without evidence) that AOC is not only powerless because she’s a Freshman (granted) but also is relatively powerless when compared to other freshman. She won a coveted seat on the Oversight committee, and also sits on financial services which aligns well with her economic populist campaign. And while this article, and most pundits over the age of 40, continuously disregard social media skills as unimportant (despite living through 2016), the opposite is true. Social media skills are vital in today’s politics. If someone is bad at social media, they are bad at communicating with their constituents. For having approximately 30 days of experience as a House member, she’s proven incredibly adept at wielding her soft power and popularity.

    I’m positive AOC will make mistakes–as all freshmen do–over the next two years. I’m also positive that pundits will jump on those mistakes as evidence that she’s uniquely unqualified and in over her head.

    I’m also positive that, come 2021, there will still be a woman named Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez representing New York’s 14th Congressional district.

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  5. @Neil J Hudelson:

    I didn’t say that she’s less powerful than any other freshman.

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  6. R. Dave says:

    @Neil J Hudelson: This article repeatedly asserts (without evidence) that AOC is…relatively powerless when compared to other freshman.

    The article doesn’t say that even once, let alone repeatedly.

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  7. Kathy says:

    I think her enemies and rivals are making too much of her. This can lead people to believe there’s more to her than there seems to be.

  8. Alex H says:

    I disagree with a lot of her positions and think she needs to learn a ton, but her scorched-earth strategy isn’t a bad way to go. She’s 29 and doesn’t even know what a legacy is let alone care about building one. She’s either going to succeed or fail spectacularly.

  9. Jen says:

    If she keeps aggressively pushing to primary other current MOC, she will have a primary. If she realizes she’s made her point and focuses on her job, she won’t.

    I have no problem at all with her being outspoken on issues, but visibly aligning herself with a group that seeks to target other current members isn’t a smart way to introduce yourself to your colleagues. There are plenty of ways that the leadership structure of Congress can either enhance her work or sideline it.

    I think she’s a smart young lady and has a ton of potential, and I hope she realizes soon that having a Democratic member from a conservative district is more helpful than a Republican, and that the Democratic member isn’t advocating for more moderate policies because he/she is a sellout: they vote that way because that’s what their *DISTRICT* wants.

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  10. R. Dave says:

    I don’t think the Dem party machine will risk alienating her fans until after 2020, so I expect she’ll be around for another term unless she spectacularly flames out somehow, which seems unlikely. If she doesn’t stop pushing for primaries against othe Dems, though, she’ll definitely get primaried in her bid for a third term. By then it may be too late to get rid of her though, as I expect she’ll tone it down just enough to avoid making too many powerful enemies while still throwing plenty of red meat to her fans. Personally, I would very much prefer that Dems show her and the lefty Twitter trolls she inspires the door sooner rather than later, but alas, I don’t see that happening.

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  11. Kathy says:

    @R. Dave:

    Can she be Gerrymandered out? There’s a census coming next year, along with redistricting.

  12. drj says:

    From the piece in The Hill – with annotation:

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has infuriated colleagues [Which ones?] by aligning with a progressive outside group that’s threatening to primary entrenched Democrats. Now some of those lawmakers are turning the tables on her and are discussing recruiting a primary challenger to run against the social media sensation.

    At least one House Democrat […] [In other words, “colleagues” is hearsay at best.]

    the Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity [Does this person even exist?]

    And what do you think happens happens when the article shifts to named individuals?

    Both Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats have denied the report […]

    “I can only tell you that the times I’ve spoken to her, and at the times she’s been at the New York delegation meetings, she’s been cooperative and wants to be a team player. That’s what she said, so you gotta take her at her word until something changes,” Meeks added. […]

    Jeffries, the No. 4 House Democrat who some say could someday become Speaker, insisted none of his House colleagues have approached him to run a primary challenger against Ocasio-Cortez.

    It’s still early, but it feels like somebody is trying really hard to build a narrative against Ocasio-Cortez. A bit like Al Gore who is supposed to have claimed to have invented the internet. That, at least, is the vibe I’m catching here.

    Unless you want to be a useful idiot, I would treat any negative story about Ocasio-Cortez with a lot of caution.

    Let’s judge her by her actions rather than sketchy, drama-infused reporting.

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  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    and a relatively powerless Freshman at that

    I read that as stating, even in relation to other Freshman, she is powerless. I think that is an accurate read of the statement, but I understand it could be read other ways as well. Clearly you meant it differently, so my apologies.
    @R. Dave:

    You are correct that he didn’t state it repeatedly, but as shown above, yeah he did say that (but I guess inadvertently).

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  14. Tyrell says:

    @Kathy: “believe there’s more to her” we can always hope.

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  15. Mikey says:

    Social media and an admittedly aggressive personality that speaks to millennials and other disaffected voters have served her well in making her a media star but she is, in the end only 1/435th of the House of Representatives, and a relatively powerless Freshman at that.

    Funny, I never would have guessed that given the number of Republicans within whose heads AOC is living rent-free.

  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Oh look…

    Some Americans are getting in a huff over something that another American has said.

    In other news, it’s Tuesday.

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  17. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    like many millennials I have run into from both sides of the political aisle, she thinks she has all the answers

    While this statement is true, I’d add that most people, of any age, think they have all the answers. My parents generation thought they had all the answers, and told me so frequently in my youth. Of course, my generation thought their elders were full of it, out of touch, and knew nothing at all. So it goes.

    And we have empirical evidence from 2016 that communicating in her style works, and connects with voters.

    And politics is a team sport, you have to figure out how to make that work, or your career won’t last long. I think she probably will.

  18. Gustopher says:

    I think she serves a valuable purpose for Democrats in conservative districts — they get to say “I’m not one of those crazy Democrats like AOC, I only support Liberal Position X rather than X++”

    She moves the Overton window. She makes it possible to roll back the budget busting Trump tax cuts on the wealthy at some point in the future, by getting people taking about a 70% marginal tax rate. Rolling it back seems so tame by comparison. Like a compromise.

    You need a far left gadfly to expand the range of possibilities, but you also don’t need to take all these possibilities.

  19. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “she needs to learn that she is not nearly as powerful as she might think she is.”

    With no disrespect or accusation meant towards you, Doug, I wonder if we’d be seeing anything like this reaction to her if she were white and male.

    Yes, she’s pushing further left than some like. Yes, she’s pushing against the entrenched political machine.

    But it seems to me that when this happened on the right, the self-styled “young guns” of the Republican party who were determined to shake up Washington and push their party further to the right were praised as brash and fresh and new and exciting.

    But AOC is just uppity. And people — well, like you — who would generally praise anyone in Congress for pushing back against entrenched machine politics seem to be tsk-tsking over her arrogance in doing so.

    I have no idea what the future holds for her. She could flame out in six months; she could rise to be a leader in the party. But the notion that a new congressperson with bold ideas should simply hold her tongue and wait until she’s got a couple decades of seniority is a brand new rule that seems to have been invented as soon as a minority chick gets some power and publicity.

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  20. Mister Bluster says:

    With no disrespect or accusation meant towards you, Doug, I wonder if we’d be seeing anything like this reaction to her if she were white and male.

    Does this count?
    Anyone But Trump
    Doug Mataconis

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: You beat me to it, but allow me to second the motion that although she seems to be stepping on a lot of toes, I agree that there would be less of a fuss about her if she were maler, whiter, and had a more American-sounding [edit] name–maybe something on the order of… “Sanders,” say.

    Beyond that, primarying her might be a worthwhile idea anyway. It’s useful to know the zeitgeist of the communities and constituencies she’s serving, especially if she’s seen as “too radical.” It could be she needs to know that, too.

  22. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    My concern with Ocasio-Cortez, her allies, and the attempts to primary Democrats is that they remind me far too much of the Tea Party, and the Freedom Caucus. Those weren’t exactly healthy developments for the GOP in general, and going from RINO’s to DINO’s isn’t something I want to see happen. There was an article (at The Atlantic, maybe?) recently about a progressive group in NY that proudly wants to model themselves on the Freedom Caucus, which made me cringe.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what she says, and think the country is more ready for some of her ideas than many “experts” think. But starting some sort of purity test on the left and primary-ing moderates out isn’t something I can support (not that I live in her district or my opinion matters 🙂 ).

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: What you mention was a problem in the 60s and early 70s too. Part of the reason I ended up conservative for so long was because it struck me that the choice was “in or out” and so, to disagree was to move right whether you wanted to or not. As Reaganomics and Neocon foreign & social policy came to dominate, “out” became the default direction for me again.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    At least one House Democrat has been privately urging members of the New York delegation to recruit a local politician from the Bronx or Queens to challenge Ocasio-Cortez.

    One anonymous pol is claimed to be urging. Please. The press loves their Dems In Disarray stories, no matter how hard they have to stretch for them.

  25. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Pylon: I don’t necessarily agree that AOC will tone down now that she’s actually in office. Exhibit A: The junior Senator from Texas. As a candidate, he was obnoxious. As a Senator, he’s turned in to a full-blown azzhole. Getting and keeping media attention is the game, and AOC has demonstrated how good she is at doing that.

  26. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    If Alexandria Ocasio loses is because her constituents think that she wastes too much time on Twitter and that should be working more for her district. She raises a lot of money, and no way that the so-called Democratic Establishment goes after people that raises a lot of money.

  27. charon says:

    @wr:

    Or maybe it’s nothing, perhaps this kerfluffle is just ratfvkking by Republicans, as explained here:

    http://zandarvts.blogspot.com/2019/01/picking-circular-firing-squad-fight.html

    ” … I still have some issue with the specifics (or general lack thereof) when it comes to Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, but even I know this is The Hill carrying water for the right.

    … ”

    At the link, supporting evidence.

  28. Scott F. says:

    @charon:

    Though AOC’s political future remains to be seen, it is evident right now that she has status quo power players scared silly. They wouldn’t be talking about her so much otherwise. Having entrenched power scared is a good start to the change the country needs.

  29. charon says:

    @Scott F.:

    I don’t know, I guess I am OK with changes, but there is something said about experience, too.

    Is Nancy Pelosi establishment? I kind of like what she does.

    Having entrenched power scared is a good start to the change the country needs.

    AsI said above, I think the only entrenched power she is scaring is the GOP, plus perhaps a few jerks like Howard Schultz.

  30. Pylon says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: I don’t think there’s much to compare between Cruz and AOC, in background (Cruz had a long establishment-based political career before being elected), election (while he was running against an old time Repub he was also endorsed by the likes of Santorum, Coburn and others), style, or substance. And junior Senator is a fair bit more influential than weeks old House Rep.

  31. Scott F. says:

    @charon:

    I agree with you and Nancy Pelosi’s lack of fear is a good case in point. There’s no indication that the Speaker is talking to reporters off-the-record about AOC, but rather AOC has been brought in by Pelosi. Status quo/establishment is more about mindset than calendar years or experience, in my view.

  32. Wook says:

    By her next election she will have made people realize all she is an angry uninformed big mouth empty head with a lot of rhetoric.

    Sounds like much of the dem party today.

  33. Randall A. says:

    The question is whether she would be vulnerable to a primary challenger. In her primary election, roughly 28K people voted…she beat Crowley around 16K to 12K. In the general, about 128K voted, and AOC received about 78% of the vote (since at least 1996, no Democrat had received less than 72.4% of the vote, and several times exceeded 80%. Suffice to say that anyone winning the Democrat primary will easily win the district. With 2020 being a presidential election year, with typically higher voter participation than those off-year elections, a primary challenge by a well-known local politician could very well be successful. AOC may well have nearly 3 million Twitter followers, but they don’t all live in NY14. If she is going to be challenged in a primary, 2020 is the year to do it. Presidential election year, and she will have been in Congress only 1 short term. If one of those “council-persons or state legislators that have been waiting 20 years” has ANY ambition to run for Congress, 2020 will be the best chance. Should she be re-elected even once, she will be hard to oust from incumbency for as long as she wants to remain there.