Election 2020

Can Candidate Ride Ocasio-Cortez’s Coattails from Ferguson, Mo., to Washington?

Organizer Cori Bush speaks on a bullhorn to protesters outside the St. Louis Police Department on Sept. 17, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Even though she’d just declared victory and been thrust into the national spotlight as the symbol of insurgent, progressive, socialist Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t forget her friend and fellow Democrat Cori Bush in St. Louis.

“There are more of us, too: @CoriBush, @Cardo2018, @AyannaPressley $ more. We need to elect a corporate PAC-free caucus if we’re going to get things done,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a few hours after her name was written in New York political history books and on the minds of political pundits across America.

“I cannot stop crying,” Bush, a nurse and pastor, responded to her friend’s tweet with assistance from Kermit the Frog.

Bush is in a three-candidate Democratic Party primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District seat. She’s running against DeMarco K. Davidson and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).

Just as Ocasio-Cortez defeated longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Bush wants to boot Clay, who is serving his ninth term in Congress, out of the U.S. House. Clay is the son of a civil rights legend, 32-year former congressman Bill Clay.

“At first, I would hear that: ‘We are loyal to Lacy Clay’s father,'” Bush said in an interview with the Riverfront Times. “Well, if you’re loyal to his father, then you’d think the legacy of that would be to vote for someone like him, someone from another generation following in the same footsteps. That, to me, is the legacy.”

Bush, who in her early 20s and lived in her car with her then-husband and two children when the family couldn’t afford rent, was identified by Associated Press as one of the leaders of the Frontline movement that sprang up after the 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

“Change hasn’t happened yet,” Bush told the AP following the September 2017 acquittal of a white former St. Louis police officer who fatally shot a black drug suspect. “That tells us we have to keep pushing.”

Bush has not forgotten where she came from. On her campaign website, Bush promises to work toward creating a “just justice system,” and harkens back to the protests in Ferguson.

“Just as protesters were unfairly treated as enemy combatants by a police force equipped with military-grade weaponry, too often our communities are decimated by a school-to-prison pipeline that unjustly prioritizes imprisonment, rather than reform,” her website reads. “Cori will fight to end mass incarceration, subsidies for private prisons, and the cash bail system.”

And Bush hits all of the other progressive hot buttons, such as calling for “Medicare for all,” women’s rights, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This is Bush’s second political campaign. She was defeated in the 2016 Missouri Democratic Senate primary by former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. But her performance was strong enough to catch the attention of some former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers, and she wound up being the first candidate endorsed by the progressive political organization Brand New Congress in her 2018 bid for Congress.

Brand New Congress might love her — Bush was the group’s first 2018 endorsement — but she’s still a long shot, right?

Roll Call reported Bush finished the first quarter of the year with $1,000 in her campaign bank account as compared to the $303,000 on Clay’s campaign balance sheet.

Establishment Democrats cautioned Ocasio-Cortez’s victory was an anomaly, a triumph in a district where the incumbent was so overconfident he didn’t bother to even show up for debates.

And then there are the demographics of the district that have changed dramatically over the past 10 years.

“Ocasio-Cortez is actually a very good fit for that district,” Michael Cohen, interim director of the political management program at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, told CNBC. “The idea that she’s the avatar of progressivism and that’s sweeping the country — it’s overblown at this point.”

Not so fast. A Democratic strategist told Roll Call that what worked against Joe Crowley and in favor of insurgent candidates like Ocasio-Cortez is the desire for change. And if that’s what the voters want, they don’t feel like they are going to get it from someone who’s been hanging his coat up in the same congressional office for 18 years.

“It’s hard to make the case you’re a change candidate when you’ve been around for a long time — and that’s an increasing challenge for an incumbent,” the unnamed Democratic strategist told Roll Call.

No matter what establishment members of her party might say, Bush would agree with that Democrat. If it can happen in New York, why couldn’t it happen anywhere?

“What people just witnessed in New York, that’s doable here if we do it together,” Bush said. “It’s time to stop looking at it like it can’t happen.”