Ocasio-Cortez Wins 2nd Term in Costly Loss for Republicans

By Jeffery C. Mays

Her challenger had collected $10 million, but Ms. Ocasio-Cortez still coasted to an easy win, creating speculation about her future political ambitions.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised more than $17 million in campaign contributions, even though she was expected to easily win re-election.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised more than $17 million in campaign contributions, even though she was expected to easily win re-election.Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times
Jeffery C. Mays

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York sailed to an overwhelming victory on Tuesday over a first-time Republican challenger who, despite his long-shot credentials, raised more than $10 million to make the race the second most expensive House contest in the country.

John Cummings, a 60-year-old Catholic high school teacher and former New York Police Department officer, built his war chest from donors around the country, playing on Republican resentment of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s status as a star of the Democratic Party’s left flank.

Mr. Cummings was able to hire leading Republican consultants, buy millions of dollars in advertisements and distribute more than 700,000 pieces of mail to the district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. Yet he trailed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez by nearly 37 percentage points with all districts reporting, and The Associated Press called the race at 10:09 p.m.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, already a proven fund-raiser for herself and others, garnered more than $17 million in campaign contributions.

There is already speculation that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 31, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, may soon consider a run for higher office, a scenario that she did not dispel in a recent interview.

“I don’t know if I’m really going to be staying in the House forever, or if I do stay in the House, what that would look like,” she told Vanity Fair. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said she would not seek a higher position just for the sake of it but wanted to assess whether a new job would make her more “effective.”

In her first term in the House, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has gained significant attention from both sides of the political spectrum. She has been a constant target of Republicans and a star of liberal and progressive social media. Yet she also ran afoul of senior Democrats with behavior that was considered subversive by Washington standards.

She endorsed challengers in Democratic primaries and protested outside of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in support of the Green New Deal when she arrived on Capitol Hill.

A former senior aide to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Waleed Shahid, now a spokesman for Justice Democrats, a grass-roots political organization that helped Ms. Ocasio-Cortez get elected, said that her activism showed that “politics is not just what you do in your committee, but also how you build pressure and social movements on the outside.”

Some have suggested that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez could primary Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2022, in what would surely be one of the most expensive races in state history, or challenge one of the Democratic senators of New York, Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand.

On the eve of the election, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez held an outreach and voter education event in Sunnyside, Queens, elbow-bumping campaign volunteers before speaking with community leaders. She jokingly apologized that a reporter had traveled to Queens to ask about her future.

“People don’t believe me when I say this, but it’s true, though: I question even my future of staying in politics in general,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said.

“There’s a world where me staying in the House is the best thing that I can do. There’s a world where me serving in a different capacity is the best thing I can do. There’s a world where me not being in politics anymore and going back to school, teaching is the best thing that I can do,” she added.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez would reach the mandatory age of 35 years old in time to be a vice-presidential candidate or run for president herself in 2024. Others see her joining a Democratic administration in some capacity.

Charlie King, a Democratic operative and a former senior campaign adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has already “outgrown” her congressional position.

But he said there were risks to challenging powerful incumbents. “She has intrigued a lot of people beyond her base because she is a passionate advocate,” Mr. King said. “But if she chooses the wrong race, there are people who could turn against her because of their fealty to a Schumer, Cuomo or Gillibrand.”

Jumaane Williams, the public advocate for New York City, is another progressive politician who often deals with questions surrounding his own political future, with recent speculation that he might make a possible bid in the 2021 race for mayor.

“I don’t know what A.O.C. is going to do, but people have an inability to figure out someone in politics that’s not playing chess for its own sake,” Mr. Williams said. “I didn’t get elected to get re-elected or go to higher office. Those things would be nice, but I try not to focus on that.”

All this talk seemed premature to Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat whom some have called the next A.O.C. after he defeated a 16-term incumbent congressman, Eliot L. Engel, in the Democratic primary in June. Mr. Bowman said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has already been a valuable mentor, and he saw no need to rush her future.

“I need the progressive movement to chill out for a second, she just got there, yo. She’s been there for two years and all of a sudden people are like she’s got to run for president?” Mr. Bowman said. “Calm down. She’s doing tremendous work from her current position.”