Joe Crowley’s Loss Is an Earthquake in Democratic Politics

Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley.
Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley.

In an upset that Democrats are going to look back on for a long time, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leftist outsider, has defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, in New York’s 14th Congressional District. She will almost certainly be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and Crowley will not be the next Speaker of the House.

“Shocking,” one senior Democratic House aide said of the result Tuesday night, noting that Crowley had been spending “a ton of time” in the district.

“They were projecting confidence.”

This is already being seen as the Democratic version of then–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by Dave Brat in 2014. (Before Republicans crow too much about how the radical Democratic base is taking over the party, helping Republicans’ chances, they should recall how the 2014 general elections went.) But it’s arguably bigger. This is new territory for Democrats.

By the time Cantor lost, establishment Republicans were already accustomed to ideologically driven upsets from the base. When the party was overflowing with enthusiasm in the 2010 electoral cycle, party favorites lost Senate primaries in Nevada, Kentucky, Colorado, Delaware, and Utah. They lost important ones, again, in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. Dozens of House primaries went the wrong way. Cantor’s was the most stunning and highest-ranking upset in a Republican primary—well, until the presidential primary two years later—but fear of the base had already been a daily fact of life for national Republicans for years.

Primary upsets against deep-rooted literal party bosses don’t usually happen on the Democratic side. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for the most part, has gotten the candidates it wanted; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not having much trouble ushering its preferred candidates through primaries, either. The little upsets that bubble up into this kind of…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.