Even without all of the mail-in ballots counted, one thing is clear: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the primary for New York's 14th Congressional District by a landslide. While her national name recognition as a progressive icon and her devoted supporters undoubtedly had something to do with the first-term representative becoming a formidable incumbent, her significant lead can be attributed to something Ocasio-Cortez has done since day one: campaign.
Even with the advantage over incumbents, Ocasio-Cortez had more than her fair share of opponents. In February, she had 13 challengers for her seat with a total of five Democrats and eight Republicans tossing their hats into the ring. Four, including AOC, made it on the ballot. Her most notable opponent, former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera received around 20 percent of the district's votes, according to updated election results from The New York Times. Caruso-Cabrera ran a different platform, spending at least some energy arguing that Ocasio-Cortez was not connected with her district and barely spent time there.
But AOC challenged her assertions in a virtual debate earlier this month by citing the 200 district events, including 17 town halls, as well as 235,000 constituent check-in calls and over 3,000 bags of groceries she and her campaign delivered to constituents during the pandemic. In doing so, she proved that her grassroots techniques are still what residents of her community favors come voting day.
A May poll conducted by her campaign showed the majority of those surveyed “think of her as fighting for them.” Ocasio-Cortez is at her best when she is face-to-face with her community and not shying away from vocalizing their needs, and she knows it. “I always feel like the best way for me to run is to really kick ass at my job,” she told reporters back in November. “I aspire to do it better than anyone who’s tried to hold this seat before.”
That’s not to say that Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t fundraising. In fact, according to CNN she raised more than $10.5 million — an amount that far exceeds that of any of her challengers. By comparison, Caruso-Cabrera raised more than $2 million, data from the Federal Election Commission indicates. Though AOC’s fundraising far exceeded Caruso-Cabrera, more can be said in looking at who donated. The median campaign donation for Ocasio-Cortez amounted to about $10, whereas Caruso-Cabrera made headlines for some of Wall Street’s most prominent names backing her.
Even with this advantage, AOC knew that fundraising alone wouldn’t get her elected again. Since her first run in 2018, she focused on a grassroots campaign that recognized the importance of getting young people and people of color to vote. These two groups are often overlooked by traditional campaigns due to historic patterns of low turnout.
Ocasio-Cortez’s win not only speaks to her district but of the direction, the Democratic party could go in the future. She, along with other freshman congresswomen like Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, represent their districts while simultaneously representing progressive voters who want to rock the boat and question existing systems rather than assume that minor changes to the status quo are the only way forward. Caruso-Cabrera said her districted wanted results, not a revolution. AOC’s primary victory begs the question: why not both?