Two sure signs that the 2022 mid-term campaigning has begun: candidates’ television spots are bombarding viewers, and the Capitol Hill rumor mill is grinding away. One of the most intriguing bits of gossip is that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may challenge Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer this year, or wait until 2024 to take on the more vulnerable, ineffective Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Ocasio-Cortez versus Schumer would present a fascinating match up, a media dream come true, with the upstart second-term representative having little to lose. First, consider that Ocasio-Cortez has experience in toppling the Democratic establishment. In the 2018 primary, Ocasio-Cortez drubbed 20-year congressional veteran and incumbent Joe Crowley, then the House Democratic Caucus chairman, the fourth ranking Democrat and a favorite to become Speaker.
Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won 57 percent of the vote. Her winning campaign four years ago could foreshadow trouble for Schumer as the message she’d send to New Yorkers would highlight the differences between the incumbent and her. Ocasio-Cortez repeatedly said that upset wins like hers represent what happens when people vote… “they had the money, we had people.”
For Ocasio-Cortez, Schumer represents an inviting target, should she choose to seek the Senate. In 2018, she ran as a woman, a young person, a working-class champion, a fresh face, an unabashed liberal and a person of color. Schumer is male, old, elitist and white. Along the campaign trail, Ocasio-Cortez piled up endorsements from national progressive groups that would elude Schumer.
Few in the Senate are more establishment than Schumer, best friend to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Schumer’s only jobs since he graduated from Harvard Law School have been in government, and he’s become a powerful, but overly familiar, not particularly admired, boring, dour, staid figure in New York politics for nearly 50 years. First in the State Assembly in 1975, the U.S. House from 1981 to 1999, and the U.S. Senate from 1999 through today, Schumer is yesterday’s news.
On Election Day 2022, Schumer will be two weeks shy of 72; Ocasio-Cortez, 33. The woke vote, the 5 million or so New Yorkers between the ages of 18 to 34, and the fed-up vote would go overwhelmingly to Ocasio-Cortez who knows how to reach younger people through social media and her 13 million Twitter followers. Schumer’s Twitter followers, on the other hand, are 40,000.
Schumer’s approval ratings are the second lowest of his senate career, with only 41 percent of his constituents giving him an “excellent” or “good” score, and 29 percent rating him as “poor.” The polling results have more bad news for Schumer. Among Ocasio-Cortez’s key youthful voters, 58 percent said Schumer was doing a “poor” or, at best, “fair” job.
The next move is Ocasio-Cortez’s. She’s been coy about her intentions, and when questioned directly about challenging Schumer, she’s responded evasively. Ocasio-Cortez’s pat answer is that she hasn’t considered a Senate run, but she hasn’t ruled it out either. “We shall see” is her favorite dodge. Much of Ocasio-Cortez’s future may depend on Schumer’s ability to bring home President Biden’s major legislative agenda, currently badly stalled. Whether Schumer retains his seat, or Ocasio-Cortez upends him, the legislative vote tally will be unchanged. Both are reliably left, and can be counted on to vote straight progressive on social issues.
Ocasio-Cortez’s emergence into the national spotlight and her visibility as a viable U.S. Senate candidate show how dramatically New York’s politics have shifted in just two and a half decades. Within living memory, Republican Gov. George Pataki served three consecutive terms, 1995 to 2006, and defeated incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo to win his first gubernatorial race. Conservative Sen. Alfonse D’Amato preceded Schumer. Gillibrand, when she served in the U.S. House from 2006 to 2008, was a blue dog Democrat who opposed a 2007 state-level proposal to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and voted for legislation that would withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities harboring illegal aliens. Once the junior senator came under Schumer’s wing, however, she voted the straight Democratic party line on immigration.
Ocasio-Cortez covets higher political office and has demonstrated the wherewithal to achieve her goals. Some analysts speculate that Ocasio-Cortez will skip a Senate run, and make a presidential bid in 2024. A look at the 24 failed 2020 Democratic candidates makes her run appear possible, if not probable.
In politics, the nine months between today and November 8 are an eternity. Among other Democratic failures on crime, education, affordable housing and COVID-19, New York voters may have grown tired of illegal aliens, including underage migrants, being flown, under cover of darkness, from the Southwest border into their state where they will become taxpayers’ burdens.