It’s here: A working-class takeover of the Democratic Party

On Tuesday, the formidable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a working-class, 28-year-old Latina, overcame the longest odds imaginable to defeat entrenched incumbent Congressman Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyBottom line Progressives eye shift in strategy after high-profile losses Ocasio-Cortez doesn't rule out challenging Schumer MORE in the Democratic primary for the 14th District in New York. A day before the election, even I — someone who ran for Congress as a 28-year-old still owing student loans and now runs an organization dedicated to supporting working-class candidates — thought the Democratic machine probably would roll over Ocasio-Cortez. I thought those of us who were pulling for Ocasio-Cortez would be talking about how remarkable her spirited performance was, given the long odds. If she could win, though, literally anything is possible.

Democrats need to take note: This is what democracy looks like. It doesn’t matter how much money you have (Crowley spent $3 million and had $1 million on hand); how much power (he is the 4th ranking member of the House Democrats and chairs the Queens party machine); or how many establishment endorsements (pretty much all of them, except Democratic Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases Congress needs to step up on crypto, or Biden might crush it House Oversight Committee expects big oil executives to testify this month MORE of California who endorsed both). An authentic candidate who connects with ordinary citizens can win.  

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A lot of the post-election punditing has focused on Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive positioning, and I do believe that the left is ascendant in the Democratic Party, but more important was her simple tagline: #OneOfUs. In her viral campaign ad, she made the simple but profound case that she is “one of us” working-class people, and Crowley has lost touch. In the ad, the cameras catch Ocasio-Cortez slipping into her heels on a subway platform, an image to which every working woman who is trying to make her life work can relate. The narrator asks how someone who “doesn’t live here, doesn’t drink our water, doesn’t breathe our air, can possibly represent us.”

 

Good question. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) approach long has been to ask which candidate has the most money and then try to mold him/her into an acceptable candidate, rather than finding candidates who are loved and trusted in their community and then providing them the resources to be successful. This money-centric approach means that the Dems love to support folks who are well-connected in donor circles but wholly out of touch with their districts.

It means that because wealth so disproportionately resides with white men, the Democratic Party rarely supports women of color because they are unlikely to have the requisite Rolodex. It means that the nation sees all these privileged candidates and rightly concludes that the Democratic Party has lost touch with the common working man and woman. Ocasio-Cortez, who was outspent by about $1million in the final months of the campaign, is proof that talent and genuine connection beats money every time.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory truly is a watershed moment for the party. If she wins this fall, she will be the youngest woman elected to the House. She is an unapologetic Democratic socialist, someone who is not just going to “go along to get along” and cozy up to Big Pharma or Wall Street. She’s not going to quietly acquiesce to what leadership wants. She owes her victory to the grassroots alone.

Ocasio-Cortez will not sit in the Hamptons and utter bleeding-heart platitudes when she reads about the plight of the working class in the New York Times. She is the working class and she’s going to make sure that unions, women, minorities and Americans struggling to avoid poverty, addiction and hopelessness have someone who will remember them when she wakes to go to work every day. Here’s some news: come November, she won’t be the only one. It will take only 20 or so Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez in the House to change everything.  

Our own equivalent of the Freedom Caucus, our “Working-Class Caucus,” would actually return the House to the people and begin to restore their confidence in a government that could actually be representative of the people, rather than the donor class. Consider candidates such as Richard Ojeda of West Virginia, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Randy Bryce, who is running for House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE’s seat in Wisconsin — the working class is coming to Washington to take back the Democratic Party for the people.

If you want to know that our democracy is thriving, that Russia’s plot to destroy it hasn’t succeeded, that big money hasn’t completely won, look to the new faces of the Democratic Party, starting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. If the Democratic Party leaders in Congress don’t take note, they will go the same way as Joe Crowley.

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s bipartisan morning news show. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.