A trio of young progressives are attempting to beat three longtime Democratic incumbents in New York on Tuesday, something no challenger has done so far this primary season.
In Queens, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is challenging Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), who has served in the House since 1999 and who is widely considered as a possible next Speaker should Democrats take back the House. But first he has to get past the 28-year-old progressive, who has garnered national attention as she has waged war against Crowley’s corporate donations and centrist policy record.
In Manhattan, 34-year-old Suraj Patel has turned to handing out branded condoms and a strategy he calls “Tinder banking,” a highly controversial plan to reach young voters by chatting with them on dating apps, in his effort to unseat Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Patel also teaches business ethics at New York University, a job he recently described in a debate with Maloney, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, as “God’s work.”
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And out in Staten Island, community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko is facing down Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who was first elected to the House in 2002. Bunkeddeko, 30, even snagged a New York Times endorsement earlier this month. The paper called him a “more energetic advocate in Washington” and encouraged voters in the ninth district to give “this promising newcomer a chance.”
All three young upstarts support Medicare for All and decriminalizing weed. Patel and Ocasio-Cortez are also two of the nearly 30 progressive candidates who have called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Their districts — the 9th, 12th, and 14th — are safely Democratic, and incumbents Crowley, Clarke, and Maloney are all considered heavy favorites to win Tuesday. But these challengers can, in many ways, already declare victory. By ensuring competitive primary races, they have helped put their rivals on their toes and effectively pulled incumbents to the left.
Patel, for his part, has argued that after a quarter century with Maloney, “it’s time for new leadership,” something Maloney’s supporters have reportedly privately complained is “ageist.” But his campaign has also exposed Maloney’s anti-vaccine stances. Citing the congresswoman’s 2012 comments about the potential (and completely fake) link between vaccines and autism, Patel’s campaign sent a mailer with photos of Maloney and anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy.
Patel’s campaign also recently dredged up a cringe-worthy video of Maloney in 2001, talking about the Taliban’s treatment of women while wearing a burqa on the House floor.
Ocasio-Cortez and Bunkeddeko have also exposed incumbent weaknesses.
Ocasio-Cortez has consistently hit Crowley for not accurately representing the district. In a campaign ad that went viral and helped shoot the insurgent into the national spotlight, she says of Crowley — without naming him — that it’s “time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same.”
“A Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air cannot possibly represent us,” Ocasio-Cortez says as the video shows her riding the subway, speaking at a local event, and walking through the district.
She goes on, saying, “What the Bronx and Queens needs is Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform. We can do it now.”
Her messaging seems to have spooked Crowley, who recently sent a surrogate to debate Ocasio-Cortez instead of appearing himself. (Crowley said he was out of town, though he tweeted photos of himself in New York the day of the debate.)
In a bizarre twist, Rep. Crowley sent a woman with slight resemblance to me as his official surrogate to last night’s debate.@repjoecrowley’s surrogate said he is in full support of Trump’s embassy change in Israel last month (where 60 people died).
The community was in shock. https://t.co/LvNj0rlhFw
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 19, 2018
Bunkeddeko, meanwhile, has honed in on the fact that Clarke has not sponsored any legislation that has passed the House in the dozen years since she took office, telling Politico, “Honestly, with Rep. Clarke’s zero track record of passing bills, it’s hard to tell what she believes. So more than anything, I want this district to have a truly progressive Congress member who actually gets things done.”
Cynthia Nixon, who is running for New York governor — and will face a state primary in September — has espoused a similar platform as the three challengers. She endorsed Ocasio-Cortez Monday, with just hours left before the election.
“Alexandria’s running an inspiring, insurgent, progressive campaign powered by the people,” Nixon said. “She represents the future of the Democratic party.”