AOC-aligned progressive candidates fall flat in Super Tuesday contests

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive candidates did not have a “super” Tuesday in the first congressional primaries of the 2020 cycle.

The Democratic establishment, on the other hand, could breathe a sigh of relief after three primary challengers from Texas and California underperformed in highly anticipated contests against longtime Democratic incumbents and establishment darlings.

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A favorite of progressives across the country, Texas congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros, an immigration lawyer, came just short of recreating the AOC primary upset of her own when she attempted to unseat nine-term incumbent Henry Cuellar, who represents the Texas 28th district south of San Antonio. She played strong to her progressive roots and often referred to Cuellar as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” also receiving high profile endorsements from Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Ocasio-Cortez herself tweeted Wednesday: “I am so incredibly proud of Jessica Cisneros. At 26 years old, she ran for office for the first time to offer TX28 new leadership that fights for workers, gender rights,& a climate agenda. She stood up to Koch brother money & incumbency, & she came closer than anyone imagined.”

Meanwhile, Christina Tzintzún Ramirez, the progressive-backed candidate for a Texas Senate seat, is struggling to make it into a runoff with MJ Hegar, the Democratic establishment’s favored pick to face longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn in November. While no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the race, returns show Ramirez locked in a battle with Texas State Sen. Royce West for a place in the runoff with Hegar.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Wednesday that “my heart is also full at the candidacy of @cristinafortx whose race is currently too close to call in the runoff for TX Senate.”

“These women come from backgrounds that typically make running for office inaccessible,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “They are holding their own & building progressive power.”

Another AOC-backed candidate, Georgette Gomez, did make the initial cut and qualified for the general election for California’s 53rd district, located in San Diego county. However, she came in second with 19 percent percent of the vote against the establishment candidate Sara Jacobs, who received 28 percent. In California, as one of the top two primary vote-getters, Gomez automatically qualifies for the November general election.

All three challengers were endorsed in the last month by Courage to Change, a political action committee (PAC) formed by Ocasio-Cortez to help progressive challengers take on established incumbents.

Despite the fact that all three candidates had strong organizations and fundraising numbers, the youth vote that they were desperate to turn out did not appear to show up. In Texas especially, only 16 percent of voters were 18-29 years old, compared to voters who were 65 or older who made up 24 percent of the vote. Youth voter turnout was only 13 percent nationally.

The types of candidates that Democrats put on the ballot have been the center of a big feud between Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic leadership.

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Though she is one of the highest-profile members of the party and one of its biggest fundraisers, Ocasio-Cortez has refused to donate her share of fundraising to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee due to their policy to blacklist vendors who work with progressive primary challengers.

The top Democrat in the House, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, got personally involved in the race between Cisneros and Cuellar, when she visited the latter’s campaign office in Laredo, Texas, just a couple weeks earlier calling for a “resounding victory” to her longtime ally.

While these are only the first congressional contests of the election cycle, they could serve an early litmus test of how the Democrats plan to present themselves to voters in November. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats were able to win back the house largely because of their focus on less progressive candidates who mainly focused on kitchen table issues, such as drug prices and health care.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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