Fan art, prints and mugs inscribed with her quotes are available on Etsy. Her Twitter following has spiked to more than 600,000.The lipstick brand she wore for several TV appearances sold out online after she made her preference public.
In the days since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset victory in the New York primary, the 28-year-old Democrat has become not just a full-blown political sensation but an international news phenomenon — and she’s leveraging it to the hilt.
Almost as soon as she was declared the winner over Rep. Joe Crowley, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Ocasio-Cortez made clear her ambition isn’t limited to the confines of the Queens and Bronx-based House district she’s almost certain to win in November.
She’s used her sudden fame as a platform to endorse and promote fellow insurgents across the country in their primary challenges against Democratic incumbents. And in the process, she’s building a national following that stands to make her an influential House progressive the moment she is sworn in.
“[Ocasio-Cortez’s victory] told people this is real. It’s not just a hoop dream. This can happen. You can beat the establishment,” said Kerri Harris, a 38-year-old biracial military veteran and community activist who is challenging Sen. Tom Carper in Delaware’s Democratic primary. “It put excitement back in our team. People are so excited.”
Many of the Democratic challengers describe Ocasio-Cortez as the candidate who opened the floodgates of pent-up enthusiasm among young progressives — they felt silenced during the 2016 presidential campaign because of what they saw as the pre-ordained designation of Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee and a party platform that was too moderate for their tastes.
Like nearly all of the longshot candidates Ocasio-Cortez has backed — from Hawaii to Kansas to Florida — Harris says her campaign experienced a surge of energy after Ocasio-Cortez tweeted support for her candidacy, including a burst in the number of donors and volunteer signups.
“We exploded — exploded after her win,” she told POLITICO.
Most political novices like Ocasio-Cortez might buckle down and focus on ingratiating themselves with other elected officials, or turn their attention toward the general election. But Ocasio-Cortez — the first Democrat to knock off an incumbent in a House primary this year — has chosen an almost unheard of path by spending her political capital on raising the profiles of other progressive Democrats in New York and elsewhere who face long odds in their own primary and general election races.
It’s a risky strategy for someone who hasn’t even won her own seat yet — and an approach that’s guaranteed to alienate many in her own party.
“Well, I think it’s odd, in that, she got elected to some degree by accusing Crowley of not being local enough. And here she is going national and she’s not even in office yet,” said Bill Cunningham, former communications director for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s fun when everyone comes knocking on your door and says ‘Do you want to go on Meet the Press or Face the Nation?‘ That’s a little bit of a heady experience. This is her 15 minutes of fame, and she’s using it the best she can. But the people who voted for her may wonder what that has to do with them.”
The strains of her newfound role are already showing as her young, inexperienced staff try to manage a flood of media requests. Her campaign manager, who once regularly reached out to local media asking for coverage, is now unreachable, with a voicemail box too full to accept messages.
Michael Oliva, a campaign consultant who worked for the Ocasio-Cortez campaign and has been helping since her victory on a volunteer basis, says the key to Ocasio-Cortez’s success will be following up the rhetoric with action.
“I think it’s human nature for Alexandria and the campaign to speak on all these shows,” Oliva said. “What they need to be prepared for is that when the fanfare dies down, they’re going to be confronted with a lot of adult decisions. What I can say is that, first of all, she hasn’t been elected to Congress yet, she won a primary, so she’s not being paid by taxpayers right now to do any specific job, what she’s trying to do is keep her message out there because the people of the district elected her on that message,” Oliva said.
“It can be tough going from a campaign which got little proportional attention to national exposure, but i think they’re handling it pretty well,” he said. “The only caution is that once she becomes a congresswoman she has to make sure she pays attention to the people of her district first and foremost.”
Assuming she wins in November — she faces a poorly-funded Republican challenger in her solidly Democratic district — Ocasio-Cortez would be among the most high-profile progressives joining Congress next year. And that’s likely to be a key bloc in the House if Democrats win back control. But Ocasio-Cortez would also be serving with colleagues who won’t soon forget her support of their primary challengers and her criticism of Democratic leadership.
Among the candidates she’s backing are Ayanna Pressley, who is challenging veteran Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, and Chardo Richardson, who is up against Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy in Florida.
In the 24 hours after Ocasio-Cortez very publicly backed Pressley, traffic to Pressley’s website grew, new donors and volunteers surfaced and Pressley’s Twitter following grew, said Pressley campaign manager Sarah Groh.
In Kansas, where Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders endorsed Brent Welder in a crowded Democratic primary, the campaign saw an “unprecedented level of interest…from national and local press,” Welder’s campaign manager Shawn Borich told POLITICO.
In addition to gaining more volunteers, the Welder campaign raised $50,000 online from 2000 donations in the week since Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support — nearly double what it raised the week before in Welder’s bid to take on GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder.
On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez waded in to the Democratic primary for governor in Michigan, tweeting her endorsement of Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old Rhodes Scholar, doctor and former health commissioner of Detroit who would be the first Muslim-American governor in the U.S. Recent polling shows he’s running in last place in a three-way August primary to replace Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
“What her endorsement means for us politically, I think what it says is something about the future of the Democratic Party,” El-Sayed’s communications director Adam Joseph told POLITICO. “It’s a little bit younger, it’s a little bit browner, it’s a little bit more progressive.”
El-Sayed quickly turned the endorsement into a press release. “@Ocasio2018 is showing us all how to do it. Thankful for her leadership, grateful for her support, and looking forward to building a more just, equitable, and sustainable America together,” he tweeted.
After Ocasio-Cortez‘s victory, El-Sayed appeared as a guest on CNN with Chris Cuomo, where El-Sayed touted her win as proof that low poll numbers don’t matter. “Fact is, polls this early don’t say anything,” El-Sayed told Cuomo. “If you’d asked about Alexandria’s race, who by the way I just find so inspiring, and what she was able to pull off is amazing, if you’d have looked at her race at this point in her race, the fact is she wouldn’t even have been on the board,” he said.
Richardson, a 38-year-old ACLU attorney and military veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, says he’s hoping in Florida to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s winning formula. In his own bid against a Democratic House incumbent, he’s aiming to turn out voters who usually sit out primaries.
“You’ve got to give them a reason to vote,” he said. “You’ve got to give them a reason to leave work, to wait in that line, and if there’s no reason to do that then it doesn’t matter how many Democrats you’ve got registered.”
“She really did give us what we needed,” he said. “I knew that if she could knock off a giant it would help us all.”
Politico · by Laura Nahmias · July 5, 2018