Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is tired of Democrats losing — losing the House, losing the Senate, and losing the presidency. And next week, voters in New York could make history by handing the Democratic establishment a major loss while chalking up a victory for the party’s progressive wing.
“We cannot afford to elect the same exact Democratic party that we had going into this mess,” Ocasio-Cortez told IJR in an exclusive interview on Friday, just days before Tuesday’s primary that will decide which Democrat will represent New York’s 14th district in the fall midterms: Incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), or the 28-year-old grassroots candidate Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez’s triumphing over Crowley remains a long-shot. She’s going up against an incumbent who’s been in Congress for nearly 20 years, raised millions of dollars thanks to large donations, and has even been considered a potential successor to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But her high-energy campaign has garnered national attention lately through an impressive list of endorsements from top Democratic organizations like MoveOn, Justice Democrats, Black Lives Matter, and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as well as two impressive performances by the political rookie in primary debates against Crowley — when he’s shown up.
The New York Times editorial board called out the Democratic incumbent on Tuesday for no-showing two debates with Ocasio-Cortez, leading to Crowley participating in Thursday night’s debate where the challenger says she was less than impressed.
“His line of attack was predictable. He was going to be condescending, he was going to be dismissive,” Ocasio-Cortez said a day after the pair faced off in Queens. “He would allude to my identity and things like that, and it’s one of these things — are we going to have the courage to change a party that has catastrophically failed, or are we not?”
Crowley has reportedly complained during the campaign about Ocasio-Cortez making the election “about race,” a criticism she isn’t shying away from. “This district is 70 percent people of color. And to not talk or discuss the issues that these communities face is oppressive. It shows a lack of understanding.”
IJR reached out to Crowley for comment but as of publication had not received a response.
If elected, not only would Ocasio-Cortez become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, she would also be the first Latina to represent her district — a district that has nearly 50 percent Hispanic voters. While that direct representation is important to Ocasio-Cortez, ultimately she believes Crowley has failed as an advocate and voice for marginalized communities.
“If you are representing a district that is 70 percent people of color you need to be like the wokest dude in existence,” Ocasio-Cortez tells IJR. “And he’s not.”
Where does Crowley fall short? In terms of this week’s immigration debate surrounding the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border, Ocasio-Cortez says the chair of the House Democratic Caucus isn’t putting enough pressure on the White House during the current “dire” situation.
“You need to park yourself in front of a detention center that is ripping and trafficking children,” Ocasio-Cortez said, harkening back to her time protesting at Standing Rock in North Dakota. “For some people it may seem like a publicity stunt […] but when you do it as a member of Congress, people will start flooding because ultimately that’s the point that we are at with this administration.”
“We need to be willing to draw hard lines and play hardball with this administration. This is not a game. This is not business as usual. And it’s unfortunate to see them trying to negotiate and fall into those hands at this time when peoples lives are on the line,” she added.
Crowley did, however, protest the administration’s immigration policies last week in Washington, leading a march with hundreds of activists from around the country, which ended with the New York representative collapsing from heat exhaustion.
And while critics argue that Crowley keeping his spot heading into November would be a more sure thing for Democrats to make sure not to lose any more seats, of Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t disagree more. “Voting for this incumbent is the riskiest thing that we can do,” she said.
“We know that the strategy and the playbook that [the Democratic establisment] have been running with has lost us the entire country and our collective future,” Ocasio-Cortez argues.
“I understand the tranquilizing allure of checking the same box, but if we don’t wake up, we’re going to continue to be a nation in decline,” she added.