By Sami Soto
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stunned the political world last year when she pulled off an upset victory against a 10-term incumbent who held a leadership position in the Democratic caucus.
Now candidates are looking to replicate some of her tactics to take on Democratic incumbents across the country.
According to the group the Justice Democrats, which backed Ocasio-Cortez in her race, the first-time candidate succeeded in part because of her unique social media strategy, a refusal to take money from large corporations and her recognition of issues that resonate with millennials.
“Everything that the world knows her for — especially her social media presence, her Instagram — she was doing that back in 2017,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesperson for the Justice Democrats. “[She was] doing Instagram Live, doing Twitter, stuff explaining [incumbent] Joe Crowley's record, explaining her policy positions in this dynamic, accessible way.”
Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old first-time candidate, is among the Democratic contenders attempting to connect to voters in similar ways.
Cisneros, backed by the Justice Democrats, is challenging eight-term incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, with a platform that includes free college, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
“She's exciting millennials, young women, Latinos, immigrants, building a campaign that's for everyone,” Shahid said. “And showing that the district deserves a real Democrat.”
In Maryland, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is being challenged by Mckayla Wilkes, an African-American mother of two. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, has held his seat since 1981.
Wilkes, who has not been endorsed by the Justice Democrats, has said that she was inspired to run by Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. The 28-year-old is running on a platform that includes an overhaul of the criminal justice system.
“I think that for a long time, there was no proof of concept that you could actually do this, that you could actually win,” Shahid said. “The party has changed, and so we're going to have elections to change that.”