With the US midterm elections mere months away, we have seen perhaps the first significant indication of how the electoral tide may be turning. This indication was provided by the voters of New York’s 14th congressional district, who opted to back insurgent left-wing candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over veteran congressman Joe Crowley by a margin of 57.5% to 42.5% in the district’s Democratic primary. Ocasio-Cortez will now go on take challenge Republican Anthony Pappas for the seat in November, and will certainly go into the race as a heavy favourite.

 

Ocasio-Cortez, a former volunteer for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, offered a similar policy platform to that of Sanders, with a distinctively socialist ideological slant. Among her policies were the introduction of universal healthcare, the scrapping of college tuition fees and the abolition of the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which has been at the centre of much controversy for its separation of migrant children from their parents at the border. These policies certainly appear to have chimed with voters in the district, many of whom come from ethnically diverse and socially deprived backgrounds.

Her opponent Crowley, meanwhile, had served 10 terms as the New York district’s Congressman. He had not even been challenged in a primary for 14 years and was expected by many to win with ease, with campaign finances more than 10 times those of Ocasio-Cortez. Crowley had been touted by many as a candidate for one of the top jobs in the Democratic Party, with his name even being linked to the position of Speaker of the House should the incumbent Nancy Pelosi choose to step down. Yet his illustrious career and dreams of moving on to bigger things have been suddenly cut short by this result.

 

Many have pointed to Crowley’s apparent complacency in running re-election as part of the reason for his defeat. According to Democratic strategists he did not appeal to any of his allies in the party for help during the campaign, confident that he did not need help to win. He also failed to show up to a debate with Ocasio-Cortez, citing scheduling conflicts, much to the ire of his opponent.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being congratulated after her shock victory (Source: Getty Images)

Yet it is difficult to overlook the importance of wider reasons in understanding this result. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory seems to conform to a common theme of political change taking place in various countries, where establishment figures have lost out to insurgents from the left and right. In these cases, political prestige counts for little and ideology counts for much. As Crowley’s campaign for re-election showed, many of the things that used to count for a significant advantage in elections, such as a well-funded campaign and backing from party elites and big business can easily become millstones around a candidate’s neck, allowing them to be portrayed as part of an insular cabal. Ocasio-Crowley’s grassroots-led campaign, on the other hand, could point the absence of big-money donors and high-profile support as evidence of its ideological purity, free from malign interests.

For many, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Crowley will have come as a significant shock. This is true for nobody more so than Ocasio-Cortez herself, who appeared stunned and lost for words as the announcement of her victory came through on a big screen at her headquarters. She has certainly joined the long list of political upsets to take place over the past few years. The main question to be asked now, as the political tide seems to be irrevocably turning, is how long this list of upsets has to get before we stop considering them upsets.