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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has again ruffled the feathers of fellow Democrat lawmakers by endorsing the challenger of her colleague Rep. Eliot Engel in his tough primary race in New York.
Her endorsement of Bronx middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is her latest effort to buck Democratic Party bosses in favor of bringing in a new generation of progressive candidates to Congress.
This endorsement hits home, as Engel represents the Bronx district just north of hers.
“Once again, she has abandoned her colleagues in Congress and supported an outsider,” grumbled one Democratic source. “Sadly, the people she supports often lose. That might be different here, but it has little to do with her. She came in in the ninth inning.”
Engel, 73, was already in a tough race prior to Ocasio-Cortez inserting her influence into the election. The powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee carries a lot of clout in Washington, but he recently made two missteps that didn’t go over well at home in New York City.
He took heat for holing up in his Maryland home outside of Washington, D.C., while the coronavirus ravaged New York City. And this week, he was caught on a hot mic asking for time to speak at an event just because of his upcoming June 23 primary.
“If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” Engel was heard saying at an event to address unrest and vandalism in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Diaz responds, "Don't do that to me."
— Emily Ngo (@emilyngo) June 2, 2020
But one Democratic aide said Ocasio-Cortez’s involvement in the Engel race doesn’t appear to have garnered the level of anger as earlier progressive attempts to oust incumbents of color, either led by Ocasio-Cortez or the AOC-aligned group Justice Democrats. Engel is hurting and Bowman is a credible candidate in the predominantly black and Hispanic district that covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.
“I think she’s coming into this race because she kind of smelled blood in the water,” the Democrat source told Fox News, citing the Engel hot mic moment that concerned fellow Dems.
The Democratic aide viewed AOC’s late endorsement as a shrewd political move to potentially take credit for a Bowman win and further bolster her chances to play kingmaker.
It was once unheard of for a sitting member of Congress to endorse a primary challenger to a colleague, but AOC has changed the rules and proven she came to Washington to buck tradition, not always play nice and to color outside the lines, the aide said.
Members now respect AOC for her clout and “a good number would be concerned or fearful that she would interject themselves in their race,” the aide said.
Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime New York political consultant who worked on Engel’s early races in Congress, said Engel was already in trouble given the changing demographics of his district, his longevity in Congress and recent gaffes.
Ocasio-Cortez inserting herself at the tail end of the race means she can claim a victory if Bowman joins her in Congress.
“It will have an impact because she stands for change,” Sheinkopf said of the endorsement. “In that district, it may have more resonance. And the fact that Congressman Engel got caught in two situations which are damaging.”