Our Opinion: Assessing local impact of Ocasio-Cortez upset

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Of New York City, Frank Sinatra sang, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it big there Tuesday in New York's 14 congressional district primary. But can that kind of success translate anywhere else, such as the congressional districts on both sides of the Massachusetts border?

Running her first political race, the 28-year-old Ms. Ocasio-Cortez defeated veteran incumbent Joseph Crowley in what was described as an a major upset but seems less so in retrospect. Mr. Crowley was the fourth-ranking House Democrat and outspent his opponent, a former Boston University student and aide to Senator Edward Kennedy, by a margin of 10-1. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, however, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, had the Senator Bernie Sanders organization behind her along with an energized group of young progressives linked by social media who don't regard the Democratic establishment as an effective advocate for them against President Trump and a Republican Congress.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, also benefited from the tone deaf campaign of Mr. Crowley, who skipped a debate with her and sent a Latina surrogate instead. This probably didn't play well in the heavily minority Queens-Bronx district, which is also heavily Democratic, making her a favorite over Republican Anthony Pappas in November. But of course, Representative Crowley was a big favorite also.

It is easy to see the parallels between this race and the 1st Congressional District primary race in Western Massachusetts between Representative Richard Neal, the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and political newcomer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Springfield attorney. There is an independent candidate but no Republican in this race and winning the primary is essentially tantamount to election to Congress.

It's unlikely that Representative Neal will make the same mistakes as did Representative Crowley, but he, too, is an establishment Democrat running against a newcomer who advocates for universal health care, gun control, a stronger social safety net and other progressive causes. Ms. Amatul-Wadud is likely to find a sympathetic audience in the Berkshires, where Mr. Neal has been criticized for his moderate stances and, in the eyes of some, inadequate attention to the towns in inherited when the state lost a seat because of redistricting. Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, she will surely try to offset a fund-raising advantage with a grass-roots campaign built around social media.

The voter turnout in the 14th District primary was extremely low, and supporters of Mr. Crowley who stayed home confident in their candidate's victory can now repent at leisure. The Massachusetts primary is the day after Labor Day, and there is reason to fear that residents still in long holiday weekend mode won't go to the polls September 4. However, if you don't exercise your right to vote you forfeit your right to complain about the result of an election.

Across the Berkshire border in New York's 19th congressional district, attorney Antonio Delgado defeated six opponents in Tuesday's Democratic primary to win the right to take on Republican incumbent John Faso in November. Following his victory, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a tweet declaring that "Antonio Delgado is running to bring his liberal New York City values to the 19th District...'' — Mr. Delgado is from Schenectady, where his parents worked for General Electric, and lives with his family in Rhinebeck. The statement added that if elected he would be a "rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi," and while using the House Minority Leader as this year's version of Hillary Clinton is sexist it could be effective. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made it a point to disassociate herself from Ms. Pelosi, who included Mr. Crowley among her leadership team.

Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Delgado put forward a progressive agenda in his campaign, advocating for universal health care, tax fairness for the middle class, and expanded environmental protections in the fight against climate change. New York's 19th is not a deep blue district like New York's 14th or Massachusetts' 1st, but working class voters there may ask Representative Faso, who has voted with President Trump on 89 percent of issues, according to 538.com, what they got from his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass a tax cut plan heavily weighted to corporations.

Of course with Democrats, who are not as united as Republicans, a key question in New York's 19th District is whether or not supporters of Mr. Delgado's primary opponents will back him in November or stay home and sulk. A more general question is how well will these liberal candidates play in a general election as opposed to a primary. But for now it seems safe to say that the Democratic left is energized and it is the Democratic establishment that has to be uneasy.

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