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- Leading Democratic presidential candidates are scrambling to showcase their alliance with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aiming to burnish their progressive credentials in a competitive primary.
- "Her endorsement is one of the most sought-after endorsements in America right now," progressive political strategist Rebecca Katz told INSIDER.
- The increasing number of candidates sponsoring bills with Ocasio-Cortez highlight the sharp left turn of the policy debates within the Democratic Party.
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Then on Tuesday, he introduced a symbolic resolution with Ocasio-Cortez to declare climate change a national emergency.
Members of Congress who are running for president in 2020 continued latching onto Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday as Sen. Kamala Harris co-sponsored a bill with her that would make it easier for people with a criminal record to get federal housing aid. It was followed with another announcement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said on Twitter that she was reintroducing legislation with Ocasio-Cortez that would force corporations to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks.
The jostling among them is comparable to people elbowing each other to reach the front of the line.
Democratic presidential candidates are scrambling to showcase their alliance with Ocasio-Cortez, aiming to burnish their progressive credentials in a competitive primary where the New York lawmaker’s support could prove critical to their political fortunes. At least seven have sponsored or co-sponsored her bills proposing drastic changes to the economy, environmental policy, and education.
Ocasio-Cortez’s power is rooted in the movement she has come to represent: A younger generation of progressive voters, mainly women and people of color, who form the ascendant activist wing of the party. That’s in addition to her ability to generate headlines with a single tweet or news interview.
"Her endorsement is one of the most sought-after endorsements in America right now," progressive political strategist Rebecca Katz told INSIDER.
Assuming partial ownership and ‘seeing the furthering of progressive ideas’
The increasing number of candidates sponsoring bills with Ocasio-Cortez also highlight the sharp left turn of the policy debates within the Democratic Party. Whether its canceling student debt, restructuring the American economy in the Green New Deal, or ensuring universal healthcare through Medicare-for-all, the candidates are using these bills to signal their commitment to progressive values and harness support from liberal activists.
Having Ocasio-Cortez’s name attached to their bills in Congress allows candidates — at least, the 11 who are sitting members of Congress — to take partial ownership of the progressive ideas that are shaping the Democratic Party.
"She is leading a progressive movement and the 2020 candidates understand that Democrats need to be bolder and have bigger ideas," Katz says. "And we’ve been seeing the furthering of progressive ideas as a result."
And for candidates like Harris — who’s had trouble reconciling her quarter-century career in law enforcement with her self-styled progressive candidacy — partnering with Ocasio-Cortez gives her an opportunity to recast her political image going forward.
"Teaming up with AOC is good politics," Katz told INSIDER. "You can’t change the past but you can put forth bold policies for the future."
Democratic presidential candidates are jockeying for AOC’s stamp of approval
Elected in last year’s midterms, Ocasio-Cortez quickly became a media-savvy politician, wielding social media as a megaphone to amplify progressive causes and regularly pummel the Trump administration’s policies. She has taken aim recently at Trump’s harsh immigration crackdown and the poor conditions migrants are being held in near the US-Mexico border.
When it comes to the 2020 election, Ocasio-Cortez has remained tight-lipped on who could land her coveted endorsement, deflecting on the question but pointing out her continued legislative work with Sanders and Warren.
"I certainly don’t want to endorse anyone this year," Ocasio-Cortez recently told The New Yorker. "You know, I think we need to have debates. I think we need to have a national conversation."
The jockeying for support from Ocasio-Cortez is readily apparent between Warren and Sanders, two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination who have sponsored or co-sponsored some of her bills in the Senate. Though both are proposing sweeping economic reforms, they inhabit different ideological lanes within the party.
Sanders is running as an unabashed democratic socialist seeking to usher in a political revolution while Warren is pushing to deeply transform the American economy — though Warren is pushing for market-oriented solutions, describing herself as "a capitalist to my bones."
Still, for moderate candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, being too closely associated with Ocasio-Cortez could also backfire. She’s an easy target for Republicans who turned her into a poster child for socialism and emblematic of the future direction of the Democratic Party.
"The fact that Joe Biden is embracing the Green New Deal shows you how far left the Democratic Party has gone," Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Los Angeles Times.
And Democrats largely recaptured the House last year by winning with moderate candidates in over two dozen districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. Confronted with a House majority that has moderates firmly in control, Ocasio-Cortez’s most ambitious bills have little chance of becoming law in the immediate future with a Republican-held Senate and Trump in the White House.
It’s also not immediately clear how Ocasio-Cortez’s support could tilt the balance of the race in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire next year.
However, one certainty is that Ocasio-Cortez will continue shaping the policy debate among Democrats heading into 2020 — if not through concrete legislative achievement, then through the parade of candidates jockeying for her stamp of approval.
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