In less than a year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went from bartending to pulling off an “astonishing” primary victory against one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party.
In a monumental upset, the 28-year-old Hispanic woman, who describes herself as a democratic socialist, defeated 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional district in Queens and the Bronx on Tuesday.
Crowley, who had not been challenged by a member of his own party for 14 years, was a frontrunner to replace Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader of the House. But Ocasio-Cortez thwarted his plans by taking 57.5 percent of the vote — a sweeping victory.
“This victory belongs to every single grassroots organizer, every working parent, every mom, every member of the LGBTQ community,” she said, evidently shocked and elated, just moments after her win. “Every single person is responsible for this.”
Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign powerful enough to defeat the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, who out-raised her by a 10-1 margin, The New York Times reported. Her charisma and ability to connect became clear early on when her campaign video went viral with almost 2 million views.
“After 20 years of the same representation, we have to ask: Who has New York been changing for?” she asked in the video. “This race is about people vs. money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money.”
An educator and former organizer for Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez used Crowley’s prominence in the Democratic Party machine against him in her bid for Congress. As a native of the Bronx and a Hispanic woman in a district that is majority-minority, Ocasio-Cortez slammed Crowley for spending most of his time in D.C. — to the point that his wife and children live in Arlington, Virginia.
“I think what we’ve seen is that working-class Americans want a clear champion, and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018,” the former bartender said to The New York Times Tuesday night.
Ocasio-Cortez was also not shy about her disapproval of her incumbent opponent. After Crowley sent a surrogate to a debate on Monday citing scheduling conflicts, Ocasio-Cortez told ABC News she found the choice to send a Hispanic surrogate “bizarre.” The New York Times Editorial Board also disapproved of Crowley’s absence, accusing the Representative of taking his voters “for granted.”
And when Crowley asked her at a debate if she would endorse him if he prevailed, she told him that she would take his request back to the people who backed her and they would decide democratically whether to give their support.
Crowley, meanwhile, was gracious in defeat. According to The Hill, as the results became clear Crowley grabbed a guitar and played a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” which he dedicated to his opponent.
While national discourse has fixated on the rift in the Republican Party, Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking victory shines a light on the evolving left. Her victory, on a platform of fighting for Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, federal jobs guarantee and criminal justice reform, suggests a Democratic base ready for a dramatic progressive change. Crowley is the first House Democrat in the nation to lose a primary in 2018.
“This is not an end, this is the beginning,” Ocasio-Cortez told supporters on Tuesday night. “This is the beginning because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it’s not OK to put donors before your community.”
On hand to celebrate with her Tuesday evening was former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon, who is currently running for governor of New York and has thrown her support behind Ocasio-Cortez.
She also told CBS This Morning on Wednesday that she was blown away by the strength of her victory.
“It was just so shocking,” she said. “We had felt so great all day, but to see what that feeling looked like in numbers was really astonishing.”
Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is also one of the latest women to make waves in the midterm primaries.
Dana Balter, a progressive activist and Syracuse University professor, clinched the Democratic nomination in New York’s 21st district, among other female victors Tuesday night. As of June 14, in Democratic primaries that have featured at least one woman and one man but no incumbent, women have won the most votes 71% of the time, Dave Wasserman, an analyst for the Cook Political Report, told TIME. On June 5, the biggest primary day of the year, 42 of the 48 women endorsed by Emily’s List were triumphant.
While many point to a Democratic desire for radical change or an excitement around female candidates, President Trump has another explanation for the massive upset.
“That is a big one that nobody saw happening,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!” (Perhaps Trump did not notice that Ocasio-Cortez had said she would support Trump’s impeachment.)
Ocasio-Cortez will face Anthony Pappas, the Republican candidate, in the November general election.