Progressives Gain Steam as Ocasio-Cortez Leverages Historic Win to Back Other Insurgent Democrats

"We're making progress. Let's keep up the pressure."

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrated her victory in New York's 14th congressional district with supporters on June 26. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Progressives nationwide are applauding the wave of left-wing victories in a number of Democratic primary races—and warning that centrist Democrats who dismiss the growing nationwide enthusiasm for candidates who refuse corporate money and support bold proposals like Medicare for All and tuition-free higher education, do so at at their own peril.

After winning the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district last week against 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley—who was expected to succeed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on a whirlwind media tour, explaining democratic socialism to Stephen Colbert, Stephanie Ruhle, and Ali Velshi—while promoting the campaigns of other progressive challengers.

Ocasio-Cortez's victory led to the appearance of Cori Bush, running for Missouri's 1st congressional district, on MSNBC in a segment called "The New Faces of the Democratic Party." The two women advocated for Medicare for All and framed their agenda as being concerned with the needs of working class Americans instead of the corporate powers from whom their centrist opponents have received donations.

According to Corbin Trent, co-founder of the Justice Democrats, the rush of corporate news outlets scrambling to give Ocasio-Cortez—and candidates like her—the coverage she had previously gotten mainly from smaller independent sources, has been welcomed by other progressives.

"She embodied so much of what we wanted to accomplish. Not everyone is happy about how the attention moved toward her—not toward them—but the ones who realize what's happening, they're absolutely excited. They know this is good for their races," Trent told the Washington Post.

Since Ocasio-Cortez's win, Kerri Harris, who is running for Democratic Sen. Tom Carper's seat in Delaware, has raised more than $15,000 from 429 donors all over the country, according to the Post.

"The guys who didn’t think we could win before are now believers," Harris told the Post. "They know that we're energized and our voices are going to be heard. Inside the campaign, we all had that mentality before, but now we're showing this is real, this is how change happens."

The Justice Democrats have seen their fundraising double since Ocasio-Cortez's victory, but much of the momentum behind the drive to elect progressives pre-dates her June 26 primary.

"The guys who didn’t think we could win before are now believers." —Kerri Harris, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—which count Ocasio-Cortez, Bush, and New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar among their members—has also seen its membership explode from 7,000 to 37,000 since November 2016, according to the New York Times.

Ten progressives endorsed by Our Revolution, the organization spawned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, have won primaries for federal-level legislative seats, and the group has propelled dozens of candidates to victories at the state level this year.

Axios on Tuesday presented the wave of progressive successes as a conundrum, with Alexi McCammond and Mike Allen writing, "Centrists and incumbents are getting swallowed up...Democrats need to unite the competing wings of their party before November if they want to win, but they're missing a central figure who can pull that off."

But with Ocasio-Cortez sending her own volunteers and supporters to work with and donate to other progressives, and media outlets working to ensure they cover campaigns that have previously been ignored, influential progressives have expressed confidence that policy proposals that focus on the needs of working Americans will continue to win votes across the country.

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