Demo­crat law­mak­ers brace for big change

Ac­tivists com­pared to GOP’s tea party

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Rep. Joseph Crow­ley’s pri­mary loss sent shock waves through con­gres­sional Democrats, who face the prospect of nasty in­ter­nal bat­tles ev­ery bit as di­vi­sive as the tea-party-fu­eled fights Repub­li­cans suf­fered in re­cent years.

Lib­eral law­mak­ers said 28-year-old Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez’s vic­tory in the New York City dis­trict over Mr. Crow­ley, a 20-year vet­eran of Capi­tol Hill and the fourth-rank­ing Demo­crat in the House, shows ac­tivists are hun­ger­ing for a change in tone and di­rec­tion at the top of their party.

Ms. Oca­sio-Cortez, a for­mer or­ga­nizer for Sen. Bernard San­ders, ran on a San­ders-es­que agenda that in­cluded gov­ern­ment-spon­sored health care and tuition-free col­lege for all Amer­i­cans, and the abol­ish­ment of U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, the agency re­spon­si­ble for com­bat­ing gangs and de­port­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Raul M. Gri­jalva, Ari­zona Demo­crat and co-chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus, said her vic­tory pulled back the cur­tain on a grow­ing po­lit­i­cal trend of vot­ers re­ward­ing bold lib­eral mes­sages.

“It is just mag­ni­fied now and made it big­ger,” Mr. Gri­jalva said. “But it has been there, and I think hope­fully from it comes a les­son for us that those points of view that she rep­re­sented in her cam­paign, and oth­ers rep­re­sent, in­clud­ing me, they need to be fac­tored in and in­cor­po­rated and part of our over­all mes­sage.”

Mr. Crow­ley has been an out­sized per­son­al­ity on Capi­tol Hill and was seen as a con­tender to suc­ceed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats.

In the wake of his de­feat, spec­u­la­tion im­me­di­ately turned to Mrs. Pelosi, who has helmed House Democrats for nearly 16 years. Yet she cau­tioned against read­ing too much into the race as a sign of the di­rec­tion of Demo­cratic vot­ers.

“No­body’s dis­trict is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of some­body else’s dis­trict,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “It is just a sign of the vi­tal­ity of our party.”

Ms. Oca­sio-Or­tiz topped Mr. Crow­ley by a 58 per­cent to 42 per­cent mar­gin in a dis­trict that en­com­passes parts of the Bronx and Queens bor­oughs of New York and is nearly 80 per­cent non­white.

Re­becca Katz, a New York-based Demo­cratic strate­gist ad­vis­ing Cyn­thia Nixon’s in­sur­gent gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign against in­cum­bent Demo­crat An­drew Cuomo, said Washington was caught off guard be­cause Mr. Crow­ley lost touch with his dis­trict.

“I think there is a real hunger for change on the ground level,” Ms. Katz said. “Some­thing is hap­pen­ing, and the sooner the Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment re­al­izes it, the sooner we can win in Novem­ber.”

Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, said Ms. Oca­sio-Or­tiz proved to be a good fit for a dis­trict that was mov­ing away from Mr. Crow­ley, the son of an Ir­ish im­mi­grant, and en­raged by Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

“That dis­trict when Joe Crow­ley first got elected was a white, work­ing-class dis­trict. It is now 18 per­cent white, with a 50 per­cent His­panic pop­u­la­tion,” Mr. Con­nolly said. “It is a dif­fer­ent dis­trict, and ul­ti­mately peo­ple want to be rep­re­sented by some­one who looks more like them.”

Mr. Crow­ley is the first Demo­cratic in­cum­bent to lose his re-elec­tion bid this year.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers drew com­par­isons to Eric Can­tor’s loss in 2014, when the House ma­jor­ity leader was caught off guard by a tea-party-backed can­di­date in Vir­ginia’s Repub­li­can pri­mary.

The tea party had been roil­ing Repub­li­can pol­i­tics for years at that point, spark­ing nasty pol­icy fights on Capi­tol Hill and cost­ing the party seats by pick­ing can­di­dates who were un­ac­cept­able to the gen­eral elec­torate in races that an­a­lysts say a more mod­er­ate Repub­li­can would have won.

Rep. Ruben Gal­lego, Ari­zona Demo­crat and a mem­ber of the pro­gres­sive cau­cus, said he doesn’t en­vi­sion Democrats fac­ing the same strug­gles in uni­fy­ing the wings of their party.

“We ac­tu­ally want to gov­ern where the Repub­li­cans just want to cre­ate chaos,” Mr. Gal­lego said. “I don’t think we are going to have the same prob­lems.”

Mr. Crow­ley’s loss sets off a scram­ble to re­place him in House lead­er­ship and raises more ques­tions about who will suc­ceed Mrs. Pelosi, 78. The Cal­i­for­nian’s top lieu­tenants are Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, 79, of Mary­land and James E. Cly­burne, 77, of South Carolina.

“It blows lead­er­ship wide open,” Mr. Con­nolly said. “I think most peo­ple were op­er­at­ing un­der the as­sump­tion that [Mr. Crow­ley] was the heir ap­par­ent, prob­a­bly, and now we don’t have an heir ap­par­ent at all.”

Mrs. Pelosi, mean­while, was put on the de­fen­sive, slap­ping down the idea that the New York race is a re­minder of how the base has turned against the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship.

“I am fe­male. I am pro­gres­sive. What’s your prob­lem?” Mrs. Pelosi said. “They made a choice in one dis­trict. So let’s not get your­self car­ried away with de­mo­graph­ics and the rest of that, within the cau­cus or out­side the cau­cus.”

The race to fill Mr. Crow­ley’s lead­er­ship post will help de­fine the cau­cus and pit the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal, ge­o­graph­i­cal and gen­er­a­tional camps against one an­other.

“It is a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for Democrats, ab­so­lutely,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat. “Ev­ery­where I go in Amer­ica, peo­ple are cry­ing out for new lead­er­ship.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said he would like to see more lib­eral pro­gres­sives in lead­er­ship but that the de­sire for change is less about ide­ol­ogy than it is about fresh faces. He pointed out that polls show con­gres­sional lead­ers are not well­liked and that vot­ers have elected young mod­er­ate Democrats such as Conor Lamb of Penn­syl­va­nia along­side lib­er­als.

“To me, it is about anti-es­tab­lish­ment,” Mr. Khanna said. “It is about let’s have new voices in there. It is about a sense of a failed gen­er­a­tion of con­gres­sional lead­er­ship.”

Pres­i­dent Trump read a dif­fer­ent mes­sage into the vote.

“Wow! Big Trump Hater Con­gress­man Joe Crow­ley, who many ex­pected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his pri­mary elec­tion,” the pres­i­dent tweeted. “In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that no­body saw hap­pen­ing. Per­haps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his Pres­i­dent!”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, the sur­prise win­ner of a Demo­cratic con­gres­sional pri­mary in New York, ran on an agenda that in­cluded gov­ern­ment-spon­sored health care and tuition-free col­lege, and the abol­ish­ment of U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

The pri­mary loss of Rep. Joseph Crow­ley raises ques­tions about whether Demo­cratic vot­ers are turn­ing against con­gres­sional lead­ers.

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