Originally published November 13, 2019
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (AOC) has hit the 2020 campaign trail with Bernie Sanders. The freshman congresswoman from New York has frequently been seen with the octogenarian from Vermont since she endorsed him a few weeks ago. Comments on their myriad of social media posts are replete with calls from the Right for her to be voted out, and that people can’t wait for AOC to no longer be a part of public life. Everyone should buckle their seatbelts, though, because AOC will be with us for the rest of her life.
AOC represents a D+29 district located in the Bronx and Queens; the district has been a Democrat stronghold for nearly a century. AOC was the first truly successful story of the Justice Democrats’ plan to shift the Democrats leftward: Primary an entrenched, moderate Democrat in a deep blue district and bank on low turnout. This worked once in her favor, but it’s highly doubtful that the same trick can be used against her.
Currently, AOC has two challengers in her congressional district’s Democratic Party primary in June, both on her political right. Considering that the latest Democratic primary election in the area, the Queens district attorney race, almost yielded a 27-year-old socialist with no prosecutorial experience (losing by only a few dozen votes), AOC’s district is not very interested in moving back towards the Democratic center. At least not without significant contributions of both time and money from the New York political machine.
That political machine, though, is fully invested in AOC, as they know she is the future of the Democratic Party (as stated by none other than Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez himself). She has already raised $3.3 million for her re-election campaign. To steal the seat from Democratic veteran Joe Crowley, she only needed $2 million. If internal polling shows that she has any trouble from the Democrats, she is poised with enough cash to handily win that primary.
As of the general election, historically that district has zero interest in voting Republican. Nancy Pelosi herself said that a “glass of water would win with a ‘D’ next to its name” in that district. At the same time, Republicans are definitely more interested now than they were before.
In 2018, AOC’s Republican challenger raised a little over $8,000, which yielded him 13.6% of the vote. This time around, there is a much more contentious primary, with five confirmed candidates already from very diverse backgrounds. Compared to 2018, those candidates have raised some impressive numbers so far, around $950,000 collectively. But raising a third of what AOC has raised and overcoming such a huge point gap may be one miracle too many.
There’s no shot that AOC decides to resign at some point to pursue another career. Historically, Democrats leave office when they retire or are kicked out. Of the longest-serving members of Congress of all-time, the top 10 are all Democrats. For all the talk of the new freshman Democrats, if you break down the House of Representatives by longevity, the average Democrat has been in office at least one term longer than has the average Republican. If you remove those sworn in in 2019, Democrats have been around two terms longer, by average. Of the 28 members of the House who announced they are not seeking re-election, 20 are Republicans and only eight are Democrats.
AOC clearly looks at Bernie Sanders as a role model for her own political aspirations. From her perspective, why shouldn’t she? He has made a very successful living being the village kook, and is now a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president. The path to getting rich and popular while accomplishing nothing is easier in politics than in any other profession. He’s been living on the public dime for 38 years, and only won his first election when he was 40. AOC has an 11-year head start on her mentor, so she can easily be in office for five or six decades, possibly with a future in the Senate or in a Cabinet position.
There are two avenues that the Right can take with a character like AOC. The first, and probably the easiest, is to accept the fact that AOC will be in politics. This route means that the Right will have a foil to argue against — someone so radical and so powerful that her mere presence in the opposition will drive voters to the polls, just to vote against her. The second, more difficult path, is probably the one that Republicans need to take to ensure political future throughout the country. That is to appeal to the innate conservatism of those who reside in urban areas.
Demographically, AOC’s district is 49.80% Hispanic, 18.41% white, 16.24% Asian, and 11.39% black. This is a prime testing ground for spreading conservative messaging throughout urban areas across the country. Family, law and order, education, religion, and prosperity are strong messages. This route will take a generation, at least, to take hold, but this is where Republicans can take a page out of the Justice Democrats’ playbook. There are almost 350,000 registered voters in that district. Roughly a third actually come out to vote. Chipping away at socialist support and driving out the vote are the way forward for this, and many more, urban areas. While this may not drive her out of office, it will send a strong message in the surrounding areas and throughout the country that there are no districts that Republicans are conceding.
There is a lot of noise coming from the 2020 Republican primary candidates in AOC’s district. While this will be a tough road for the eventual nominee, the fight is worth having. Most likely, however, AOC will be in the public sphere for a long time to come. The only difference will be that, in the future, she may be the “moderate” of the Democratic Party.
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