2020 Vision: A burning AOC offers a scary preview of next year's attack ads

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 143 days until the Iowa caucuses and 417 days until the 2020 presidential election.

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

Just in: The Democratic National Committee announced Friday that the next Democratic presidential debate will be held on Oct. 15, with a possible second night on Oct. 16, in Westerville, Ohio, on the campus of Otterbein University. CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett as well as New York Times editor Marc Lacey will moderate.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

About last night

In a likely preview of Republican messaging for the 2020 election, an ad from a GOP PAC that aired during Thursday night’s Democratic debate showed a photograph of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with her face engulfed in flames.

The ad from the New Faces PAC, a group with the self-described mission of broadening the GOP’s appeal to youth, minorities and women, is narrated by Elizabeth Heng, a Republican who lost a California congressional race in 2018. In the video, as the fire consumes Ocasio-Cortez’s face the photo peels away to reveal images from the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s — skulls in heaps, bodies lined up on the ground, a starving family.

“Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horrors of socialism?” Heng intones. “Forced obedience, starvation.”

“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white. I’m not outrageous, racist, nor a socialist,” Heng adds. “I’m a Republican.”

Cambodia was ruled for about five years by the Khmer Rouge, headed by Pol Pot. As much as a quarter of the country’s population died as a result of forced relocations to villages, famine and political purges.

The Khmer Rouge ideology was communist, or more precisely Stalinist, far removed from the brand of democratic socialism espoused by Ocasio-Cortez.

The freshman congresswoman, who has become a frequent target on the right, responded on Twitter.

“Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist. Life is weird!” wrote Ocasio-Cortez, adding, “Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color — that was the pretense. What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”

According to filings, New Faces PAC raised just over $175,000 between Jan. 1 and June 30, mostly from the same donors who financed Heng’s congressional run. Per the PAC’s website, its goal is to “help elevate the next generation of Republicans so that we can not only survive as a party, but expand beyond the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves.” Before she lost her congressional race to Rep. Jim Costa by 15 points, Heng was hailed by the Wall Street Journal as a potential “Ocasio-Cortez for the GOP.”

On Friday morning, Ocasio-Cortez criticized ABC News and Sinclair, which owns a Washington, D.C., affiliate that broadcast the debate, for airing the ad.

“GOP’s message: No policy, no facts, just displays of violence + corporations like @ABCNetwork & Sinclair who amplify them,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez. “They profit from burning my likeness on TV. But who pays for heightened security? Who answers the phones for the threats resulting from a violent, false ad?”

She was not the only one critical of the ad.

“This ad is abhorrent,” wrote the Twitter account for UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group. “Literally burning @AOC and promoting violence against a sitting member of congress. How did you let this on the air @ABCNetwork?”

“If that ad of AOC burning is running in October 2019, imagine what we will see in October 2020,” said Ben Rhodes, a former Obama White House staffer.

Whoever the Democrats nominate in 2020, Republicans are certain to tie him or her to Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive congresswomen whom Trump has repeatedly attacked and dubbed “AOC Plus Three.”

The elevator pitch

Yahoo News recently asked 2020 presidential candidates to deliver their elevator pitches, explaining to voters why they should be the next president — in 90 seconds or less. To date, more than a half dozen, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, have responded.

“I’m running for president for a couple of basic reasons,” Sanders said. “No. 1 in my view, Donald Trump is the most dangerous president perhaps in the history of this country, and I believe I am the strongest candidate able to defeat Trump. And the second reason is that defeating Trump is not enough. This country faces some monumental crises.”

Chief among them, for Sanders, is climate change.

“The scientists tell us we have less than a dozen years to transform our energy system and combat climate change, or else there will be irreparable damage done to this country and to the entire planet,” he said, before rattling off some of his other policy proposals, including Medicare for All and free college tuition.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, a long-shot candidate for the Democratic nomination, delivered his elevator pitch in 60 seconds — in an elevator.

“Here’s why you should vote for me in one minute or less,” Yang said. “We are going through the greatest economic transformation in the history of our country, what experts are calling the fourth industrial revolution. This led directly to Donald Trump becoming our president in 2016.”

Click here to see them all.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (Photo: Mark Rogers/Odessa American via AP)

Ted Cruz for president: 20 ... 24? 28?

While this column is titled 2020 Vision, we hope you’ll allow us to briefly peek a little farther into the future. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said this week that he was interested in running for president again, which is unsurprising after he finished second in GOP delegates in 2016, trailing only Trump.

“Look, I hope to run again,” Cruz told the Christian Science Monitor. “We came very, very close in 2016. And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life."

Cruz won reelection to a second Senate term in 2018, defeating Rep. Beto O’Rourke by 3 points. If Trump remains popular in the Republican Party, it could hurt Cruz’s chances that he called the president a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral” and a “bully” during the 2016 primary, but the two have seemingly reconciled.

Andrew Yang takes the stage for the Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Thursday. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

Debate verbatim

“When you donate money to a presidential campaign, what happens? The politician spends the money on TV ads and consultants, and you hope it works out. It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians.”

— Andrew Yang before announcing a plan to give away $1,000 a month for a year from his campaign to each of 10 families — an offer that may run afoul of federal election law

“It’s original, I’ll give you that.”

— South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Yang’s plan

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?”

— Julián Castro to Joe Biden in questioning the former vice president’s memory. Castro denied he was trying to suggest Biden is too old to be president.

“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke when asked if he would stand by his proposal for a mandatory buyback of assault rifles

“I came back from the deployment and realized that you only get to live one life. And I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer, so I just came out.”

— Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate in U.S. history, describing his decision to come out

“I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack. I think Obamacare worked.”

— Biden to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who backs Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal

“I’ve never actually met anybody who likes their health insurance company.”

— Warren to Biden, who said his health care proposal would allow Americans to keep their current plans if they like them

The week ahead …

Monday, Sept. 16: At least five of the Democratic presidential candidates will be in South Carolina next week for the historic Galivants Ferry Stump at Pee Dee Farms General Store in Galivants Ferry: Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Warren will be in New York City for a rally at Washington Square Park at 7 p.m. ET. And President Trump will head to New Mexico for a rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho at 9 p.m. ET.

Friday, Sept. 20: Ten Democratic hopefuls — Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Klobuchar, Joe Sestak, Warren and Marianne Williamson — are expected to attend an LGBTQ forum at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Saturday, Sept. 21: Some 18 Democratic candidates will be in Des Moines, Iowa, for the Polk County Steak Fry, an all-day event hosted by the Polk County Democrats.

Read more 2020 coverage from Yahoo News: