The 'AOC primary': Can Warren steal the prized endorsement away from Bernie?

For progressive presidential candidates in 2020, there is perhaps no greater prize than earning the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The 29-year-old freshman phenom, who has helped guide her party to the left with platforms like the Green New Deal and has built a social media following dwarfing that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has not chosen a candidate in the huge field seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I will support whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Ocasio-Cortez told Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast last month, but she singled out Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for praise.

“I’m very supportive of Bernie’s run. ... I haven’t endorsed anybody, but I’m very supportive of Bernie. I also think what Elizabeth Warren has been bringing to the table is truly remarkable, truly remarkable and transformational.”

Since that time, as Warren has risen in presidential polls and Sanders has stalled or fallen, Ocasio-Cortez has seemed to align herself closer with Warren, cutting two viral clips that suggested an ideological kinship on corporate responsibility — and on the capability of women to govern an unruly realm.

Writing in Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” issue, Warren heaped praise on Ocasio-Cortez. “She watched as our government bailed out Wall Street while it ignored families like hers. She learned the hard way that in America today, Washington protects the powerful while leaving hardworking people behind,” Warren wrote. “A year ago, she was taking orders across a bar. Today, millions are taking cues from her. She reminds all of us that even while greed and corruption slow our progress, even while armies of lobbyists swarm Washington, in our democracy, true power still rests with the people.”

Given her unwavering approach to progressive political goals, it’s not surprising that Warren would emerge as a contender for the freshman representative’s endorsement. But Ocasio-Cortez also has ties to Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, who might be an even closer ideological fit. She got her start in politics as an organizer in Sanders’s 2016 campaign — although the Vermont senator didn’t endorse her in her primary campaign last year to win the Democratic nomination from incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., at the National Action Network Convention in New York, April 5. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

When Sanders held a town hall in December on “Solving Our Climate Crisis,” Ocasio-Cortez played a starring role. Five months later, the two hit the road together to champion the Green New Deal in what felt, at times, like a preview of the coming presidential campaign. She attacked Sanders’s main rival for the nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden, whose aides told Reuters that he was working to find a “middle ground” position on climate change.

“What is too much for me is the fact that in 1989, the year I was born, that politicians were first informed by NASA that climate change was going to threaten my life and everyone’s life here, and they did nothing,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a speech at Howard University. “I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are gonna try to come back today to say we need a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives. That is too much for me.”

Biden’s candidacy “does not particularly animate me right now,” Ocasio-Cortez told “Skullduggery.”

Time and again, Ocasio-Cortez has mentioned both Sanders and Warren when asked who she might endorse.

But with the first caucuses and primary votes still more than eight months away and polls showing the race in flux, other Democratic contenders are seeking to link their campaigns with her, including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Shortly after declaring herself a candidate for president, Harris went on “The View” and praised Ocasio-Cortez for “challenging the status quo,” saying she was “introducing bold ideas that should be discussed.”

For those seeking Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, no idea is more important than the Green New Deal, and Harris — along with Sanders, Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — has signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation.

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