In a surprise defeat, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, was soundly defeated in his primary Tuesday night by a 28 year-old progressive activist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing the first overt signs of a broader struggle over the future direction of the Democratic Party.
Crowley, the head of the House Democratic Caucus, had been talked about in recent months as a possible candidate for Speaker of the House, as younger Democrats have chafed at the idea of returning Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to that post, if their party takes control of the House in November.
Instead, Crowley was thumped by Ocasio-Cortez in their primary by a margin of 57 to 43 percent, as she emphasized a series of more progressive reforms, casting the race against Crowley as one of the people versus money and the political machine.
“I want to congratulate Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on her victory,” Crowley said in a written statement. “I look forward to supporting her and all Democrats this November.”
Crowley is only the third sitting House member to be defeated in a primary re-election bid in 2018 – but he is by far the most senior, joining Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC).
While Crowley was defeated, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) barely avoided the same fate, leading her primary challenger, 30 year-old Adem Bunkeddeko, by less than 500 votes.
The success of those younger candidates quickly was felt on Capitol Hill, where newer Democratic lawmakers have pressed for a change in their leadership ranks.
Crowley’s loss means that 57 sitting members of the House won’t be back in 2019 for the next session of Congress – that was the exact turnover number from the 2016 election cycle – meaning 2018 is already on pace to bring more new faces into the Congress.
“The Democratic Party is finally starting to elect people who look more like the voters who have long powered the Democratic Party,” said Brian Fallon, who worked for the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President.
“That is not an identity crisis. That is discovering our true identity,” Fallon added.
“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ stunning victory tonight is the clearest demonstration yet that when candidates welcome the New American majority of people of color and white progressive voters and run on a bold, visionary inclusive populist agenda tremendous change is possible,” said Jim Dean, head of the progressive group Democracy for America.
Republicans saw it differently.
“Democrat Party marches leftward and further away from the mainstream center-right political views of the American people,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN).