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Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

A May 2016 photo provided by the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign shows the candidate during a Bengali community outreach in New York.
A May 2016 photo provided by the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign shows the candidate during a Bengali community outreach in New York.
Corey Torpie

In a stunning primary upset, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a young socialist activist, woman of color and political newcomer – has unseated leading House Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's deep-blue 14th Congressional District.

Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a former organizer for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and a one-time staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, ran on an unalloyed leftist progressive platform – calling for a "political revolution" that includes Medicare and higher education for all, gun control measures, an end to private prisons and the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

She defeated Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who many saw as a possible successor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should Democrats win a majority in November. Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, had not even faced a primary challenger since 2004.

In a profile published this week in Vogue magazine, Ocasio-Cortez was described as "A third-generation New Yorker whose family has roots in Puerto Rico [and who] looks a lot more like the constituents in the very diverse 14th District than Crowley, a 56-year-old white man."

By contrast, Vogue said Crowley "pays lip service to the post–Donald Trump resistance while maintaining largely centrist politics."

Ocasio-Cortez's leftist outlook found her tilting at the Democratic Party establishment. Most notably, she is a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has its roots in the Socialist Party of America, whose most famous leader was Eugene V. Debs, a union leader who was a perennial presidential candidate on the Socialist ticket from 1900-1920.

"What I see is that the Democratic Party takes working class communities for granted, they take people of color for granted and they just assume that we're going to turn out no matter how bland or half-stepping these proposals are," Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent interview, according to The New York Times.

"This is not an end, this is the beginning," she told cheering supporters on Tuesday.

"You have given this country hope, you have given this country proof that when you knock on your neighbor's door, when you come to them with love, when you let them know that no matter your stance, you are there for them — that we can make change," she said.

On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez joined a protest in Tornillo, Texas, at the an ICE child detention center. She has also expressed solidarity for Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

Late Tuesday, President Trump suggested in a tweet that Crowley's defeat — the largest primary upset since 2014, when then-Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor was defeated by economics professor Dave Brat in Virginia's 7th Congressional District — may have been because he is a "Big Trump Hater" who "should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!"

But more likely, Ocasio-Cortez's win is an indication that Democrats are willing to tack to the left to counter Republicans who seem to be steering a course ever-farther to the right. Even so, it would be easy to read too much into her upset victory in a firmly progressive congressional district carved out of parts of the Bronx and Queens, and nearly half Hispanic.

"Women like me aren't supposed to run for office," Ocasio-Cortez says in a campaign video that went viral.

"I wasn't born to a wealthy family or powerful family — mother from Puerto Rico, dad from the South Bronx. I was born in a place where your Zip code determines your destiny," she said.

Despite Crowley outraising Ocasio-Cortez by a 10-to-1 margin, her targeted campaign and aggressive ground-game was key. So too was her opponent's decision not to show up to debate her.

"This is the second primary debate in which Mr. Crowley was a no-show," according to a scathing New York Times editorial published last week. "A spokeswoman for Mr. Crowley said he had scheduling conflicts that wouldn't allow him to attend the two debates, inevitably leaving voters to wonder — what are we, chopped liver?"

In November, Ocasio-Cortez will face Republican Anthony Pappas, a St. John's University professor who teaches economics and finance. He ran unopposed in his party's primary.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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