Washington, D.C. – New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says while she is not seriously considering challenging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in next year’s Democratic Party, she also has not yet ruled it out, the New York Post reported Monday.
A race between the two would set up a battle that could affect the Democrat’s bid for outright control of the U.S. Senate. Schumer is currently the majority leader, but only because Vice President Kamala Harris is empowered, as president of the Senate, to cast a vote to break any ties that may occur in the chamber which, since January of this year has been evenly divided, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.
As a loud and proud progressive, AOC has worked tirelessly to drag her party to the left, creating conflicts with the more moderate members of her party who represent suburban districts held by the GOP before the 2018 election and whose interests Schumer safeguard from the other side of the U.S. Capitol.
The 2020 congressional elections will be held in new districts drawn to reflect the population changes recorded in the 2020 national census. The final numbers are scheduled to be released later in August but, based on what is already known about the population shifts between the states, New York will lose one congressional seat. Mapmakers could, redistricting experts say, easily fold AOC’s current seat representing areas in the Bronx and Queens counties into one occupied by another Democrat, creating the need for a party primary that she could lose. Her efforts to keep the talk of a potential primary against Schumer alive may be a bluff designed to get the senator’s allies in Albany to make sure she gets a seat she likes and keeps.
AOC attempts to tamp down those rumors down by consistently portraying herself as a committed progressive who doesn’t think about electoral politics. “I know it drives everybody nuts. But the way that I really feel about this, and the way that I really approach my politics and my political career is that I do not look at things and I do not set my course positionally,” she said in an interview CNN aired Monday. “And I know there’s a lot of people who do not believe that. But I really — I can’t operate the way that I operate and do the things that I do in politics while trying to be aspiring to other things or calculating to other things.”
Should AOC decide to enter the Senate primary, it won’t quite be the David v Goliath battle some are suggesting it might be. Ocasio-Cortez is far stronger than she makes out, with a national fundraising network of her own that, while may not match Schumer’s would certainly allow her to be competitive. The contrast between the two would be noteworthy as it would pit the far left from the Reagan-Bush era – as represented by the Senate majority Leader – against the new Democrats who are driving the party’s agenda.
Should she win, it would have profound national implications by creating an opportunity for New York Republicans, working in concert with disaffected Democrats and traditional independents put off by AOC’s radicalism, to possibly win the seat in November – threatening national Democratic plans to win back control of the Senate. There’s plenty there to work with, especially AOC’s controversial views on foreign policy which, influenced as they are by Rep. Ilan Omar of Minnesota and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tliab, matter a great deal to voters in the area in and around New York City.
AOC has an opening only because Schumer – still learning on the job how to be majority leader – has had little success so far moving the progressive agenda through the Senate. Prominent progressives are growing grumpy that the changes they had been led to expect are coming at such a slow pace, if at all – and blame it on Schumer’s inability to keep Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema from breaking ranks in much the same way the GOP’s ability to achieve its policy goals was constantly frustrated by the late John McCain’s independent streak.
Still, AOC has done the unexpected before, coming out of nowhere to defeat 10-term Democrat and potential House Speaker Joe Crowley in a 2018 primary in New York’s 14th congressional district. This is probably something Schumer and his political team are thinking about a lot, adding to the pressure he’s feeling from the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the sizeable progressive caucus in both congressional chambers to get their agenda through the Senate. Until she makes up her mind, he’s in for at least a few sleepless nights.
Peter Roff can be reached at RoffColumns AT GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.
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