Most freshman members of Congress focus on securing their own re-elections, but not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The self-described democratic socialist U.S. representative from New York's 14th Congressional District has her eyes set on targeting a list of her political rivals across the country. What makes this interesting — some of her targets are fellow Democrats.
According to a report in the New York Times, on Friday Ocasio-Cortez endorsed an all-female slate of far-left candidates through her new political action committee. The Times reported the freshman congresswoman is "using her clout in the insurgent left and the considerable campaign funds she has drawn to counter the Democratic establishment in key races around the country. Among her most notable endorsements is a far-left Senate candidate in Texas.
'Reshape the Democratic Party'
Although it's not uncommon for members of Congress to transfer campaign funds to support their allies, the Times noted that Ocasio-Cortez is leveraging her "influence among activists" in an attempt to "try to reshape the Democratic Party."
The battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party comes as polls show Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders surging in the race to be the party's nominee. Ocasio-Cortez, who has endorsed Sanders' presidential bid, has not been coy about her desire to push the Democratic Party to the left.
"One of our primary goals is to reward political courage in Congress and also to help elect a progressive majority in the House of Representatives," she told the Times in an interview. "There's kind of a dual nature to this: One is opening the door to newcomers, and the other is to reward members of Congress that are exhibiting very large amounts of political courage."
Challenging incumbent Democrats
Ocasio-Cortez is also taking the rare step of challenging incumbent members of her own party, as she has announced that she will be backing primary challengers to at least two of her House Democratic colleagues: Marie Newman, who is challenging Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, and Jessica Cisneros, who is tackling Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar from his left.
Establishment Democrats fret that Ocasio-Cortez could have a negative effect on her party as it attempts to present itself as a moderate alternative to voters in November. At least one former Democratic operative noted the New York congresswoman's efforts are unprecedented.
"We've never seen somebody break onto the scene with this amount of potential and ability to drive the conversation and drive financial commitments from supporters," said Ian Russell, a former leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The challenge for her is determining where she wants to spend her capital."