Is One of These Six Progressive Democrats the Next AOC?

For two decades, 99% of House incumbents have won their primaries. These progressives seek to buck that trend.

Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Published in
7 min readAug 19, 2019

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty

Progressive Democrats have tasted victory, and now they want more.

Following a string of stunning victories in the 2018 primaries — most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley — the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has more momentum than ever. (Just look at how the slate of presidential hopefuls have adopted many of their policies, namely Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.) Should progressives succeed in building their Capitol Hill faction, progressive representatives could be successful in advancing policies such as abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

This means old-guard, centrist Democrats who continue to tout moderate proposals have been put on notice by insurgents: Either adapt or suffer the same fate as Crowley. Still, AOC was an anomaly. According to FiveThirtyEight, only 49 House members lost their primaries between 1999 and 2018, giving them a 99% overall victory rate. Even in the last election, only two Democratic incumbents lost their primary race: Crowley and 10-term Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano, who was defeated by Ayanna Pressley. The Democratic establishment has learned from last election season and is bracing itself for the coming civil war. Compounding progressives’ already-slim odds, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, made the controversial decision in April to break business ties with political consultants and pollsters who work with primary challengers. All of which is to say: Progressive candidates are still sure to face an uphill battle.

From New York to Ohio to Texas, centrist Democrats have been put on notice: Progressive candidates are coming for them in 2020.

But the upsets and AOC’s meteoric rise since then has shown what is possible, particularly when candidates bet on progressive policies and focus on creating an effective grassroots strategy. Ahead…

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Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning Puerto Rican journalist. Senior Writer at New York Magazine’s The Cut. Formerly GEN, Refinery29, and more. Read my work: https://www.thecut.com/