The Story Behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Win And The Reality Of Running For Office

Julie Piñero
I'll say it: I miss the 2018 midterm elections

I’ll say it: I miss the 2018 midterm elections.

Why? Well, there’s a lot to miss. On the surface, the 2018 midterms broke diversity, fundraising and voting records. But, let me be clear, I miss the stories behind the candidates. Not the stale political narratives. I miss the Marvel-style origin stories of regular people mobilized to run for office after watching a reality TV star win the presidency in 2016.

Candidates like Brianna Wu, a video game developer who ran for Congress after fighting online harassment in Gamergate. Or Rep. Jahana Hayes, who just three years ago was awarded Teacher of the Year. “I never expected to win,” Hayes said.  

But perhaps the best-known story of all is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old who defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley. Her narrative was so remarkable that it’s one of the subjects of an upcoming Netflix documentary.

Amanda Litman, co-founder of the progressive organization Run for Something, recruited and supported more than 200 progressive candidates for office in the 2018 midterms. She describes a post-2016 shift in which “the rules of what we think a politician should look like are thrown out the window.” 

“The reality is that voters want someone who is like them. We want someone who has maybe made a few mistakes, has done something silly when they were in college, has played a couple games of beer pong and has some photos on Facebook about it. That means that’s someone who’s lived a little.” Litman said.

The reality is that voters want someone who is like them. We want someone who has maybe made a few mistakes, has done something silly when they were in college, has played a couple games of beer pong and has some photos on Facebook about it. Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something

But how far can lived experience carry an otherwise unseasoned candidate? In this case study, we look at the campaigns of Ocasio-Cortez and fellow rookie Carol Hafner, a New Jersey resident who ran for Congress in Alaska despite the fact that she’d never set foot in the state. Yes, they’re totally different ― Ocasio-Cortez as an embedded member of her community and Hafner thousands of miles away. But they both ran as progressive, first-time candidates with compelling backstories. Both hoped to unseat male incumbents (in Hafner’s case, an incumbent in power for over 40 years). Both were political newcomers running unlikely races. And, let’s be frank, you know Ocasio-Cortez, but you probably don’t know Hafner. 

So what was the movement behind the rise of Ocasio-Cortez? Was Hafner’s distance the main factor in these different outcomes? And can anyone run for Congress? 

To find out, watch the “ICYMI By HuffPost” video above.

CORRECTION: Joe Crowley served 10 terms, not 10 years, in the House of Representatives.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.