Ocasio-Cortez dangles endorsement: Sanders or Warren?
WASHINGTON — Two of the best-known women in Democratic politics had just recorded a video to upbraid Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez started bantering about the final episode of “Game of Thrones.” Their riff bemoaning the show’s antifeminist finale was caught on tape, slapped up on Twitter, and in a flash drew almost 2 million viewers.
Most every time Warren and Ocasio-Cortez have teamed up of late — for lunch, legislative matters and video messaging — they have drawn millions of eyeballs.
They have also raised eyebrows.
Warren fans wonder whether — and hope that — Ocasio-Cortez may eventually endorse the Massachusetts senator in her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
But the freshman House member, a superstar of the progressive movement, has more history with Warren’s leading rival for progressive votes in the 2020 Democratic primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. They too have teamed up on many legislative and political matters. Many Democrats find it hard to imagine Ocasio-Cortez will not eventually back Sanders, as she did in 2016.
The fact that a 29-year-old freshman House member is being sought out by two presidential candidates with years of congressional seniority who are more than twice her age speaks volumes about the state of the Democratic Party and the dynamics of its primary process.
Ocasio-Cortez embodies a younger generation of Democrats led by women and people of color — a progressive voting bloc that brings intense passion to the fight to oust President Donald Trump. She also has a gift for creating social media sensations that oldschool Democrats can only dream of.
“I would argue that she is one of the most important endorsements in the Democratic Party right now,” said Rebecca Katz, a strategist who used to work for former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “She has a huge reach beyond any other member of Congress. She knows how to use her voice.”
That voice could make a big difference in the sub rosa contest between Warren and Sanders for dominance among the party’s most progressive voters and in the jockeying to emerge as the leading left challenger to Joe Biden, who currently leads in polling. Sanders, who became a folk hero to progressives in his 2016 presidential bid, has held a significant lead over Warren since he entered the race, but the spread has narrowed in recent weeks.
Ocasio-Cortez told CNN this spring that she did not expect to make an endorsement in the crowded 2020 field “for a while,” but in discussing what she was looking for in a nominee, she singled out Warren and Sanders.
“What I would like to see in a presidential candidate is one that has a coherent worldview and logic from which all these policy proposals are coming forward,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think Sen. Sanders has that. I also think Sen. Warren has that.”
Asked for more specifics about when she would make an endorsement, her spokesman, Corbin Trent, said it would be early enough to have an impact.
“She wants to make sure her endorsement matters in the race,” he said. “Timing is important.”
One candidate she almost surely will not endorse in the early primaries is Biden.
He “does not particularly animate me,” she said in an interview earlier this spring with the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”
But she was, perhaps surprisingly, prepared to be a party loyalist in the end: “I will support whoever the Democratic nominee is,” she said.
For Democrats other than Warren and Sanders, association with Ocasio-Cortez could be risky: Party centrists worry about her high profile as a democratic socialist. She has become the poster child for Republicans’ cornerstone strategy for 2020 — portraying the entire Democratic Party as pursuing a socialist agenda.
Republicans believe their job has been made easier since several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden, the self-styled centrist, have embraced Ocasio-Cortez’s signature issue — the Green New Deal agenda for combating climate change.
“The fact that Joe Biden is embracing the Green New Deal shows you how far left the Democratic Party has gone,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House GOP.
A March Quinnipiac University poll found that more people (36%) had an unfavorable view of Ocasio-Cortez than a favorable one (23%). But 38% didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Opinion was of course deeply split by party: 74% of Republicans viewed her unfavorably; just 7% of Democrats did.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) waits for the beginning of the 116th Congress on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 3.