Taking aim at one of her party's most influential members, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday endorsed embattled progressive upstart Alex Morse in his Massachusetts congressional race against Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ocasio-Cortez, often known by her initials AOC, made her endorsement via her political action committee, Courage to Change, the New York Times reports. Morse, the 31-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, faces an uphill battle in his bid to unseat a long-serving incumbent, just as Ocasio-Cortez did in her successful 2018 primary challenge against Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.).
Morse tweeted that he was "so proud" to gain the endorsement.
"When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took on her own entrenched incumbent in 2018, she changed public service for the better, further inspiring me and so many others to fight for our districts and empower those who have long been forgotten," Morse wrote in a statement, referring to the former bartender and organizer's historic upset of Crowley, who represented New York's 14th Congressional District for 20 years.
"I am honored to have the congresswoman's Courage to Change in our corner, and it will be the honor of my life to bring the people alongside me to Washington."
I am so proud to have the endorsement of @AOC's @CouragetoChange.— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) August 25, 2020
When AOC took on an entrenched incumbent, she changed the Democratic Party for the better. It would be an honor to serve alongside her in Congress to fight for progressive change that benefits working families. pic.twitter.com/jgvBSwOO7r
Although only a first-term congresswoman, Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist former surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, has become an influential leader of the progressive left. Along with other members of "The Squad"—Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—she is widely reviled by supporters of President Donald Trump, and disdained by backers of more moderate Democrats.
Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement comes in the wake of a tumultuous test for Morse, who has weathered accusations of sexual impropriety leveled by two campus chapters of the College Democrats of Massachusetts. Leading members of the groups claimed Morse abused his position as a part-time lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in order to pursue consensual sexual relationships with students.
As the scandal broke earlier this month, Morse considered dropping out of the race. However, it was later revealed that some of Morse's accusers had plotted to destroy his candidacy as far back as last October, and that Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats at the center of the allegations against Morse, aspired to work for Neal. The Massachusetts Democratic Party announced in mid-August that it would investigate the matter following the September 1 state primary election.
Neal, who is serving his 16th term in the House, is the most prominent incumbent targeted by Ocasio-Cortez, who since taking office has been cautious about offering her endorsements to candidates. Courage to Change has endorsed fewer than a dozen candidates, including Jamaal Bowman, who defeated Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.)—a 30-year incumbent backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and other power Democrats—in last month's Democratic congressional primary.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Ocasio-Cortez has personally endorsed just three progressive challengers during the 2020 primaries, while Courage to Change has now endorsed eight progressive candidates. In comparison, Sanders has endorsed five candidates, as have the activist groups Justice Democrats and Indivisible, while the pro-Sanders group Our Revolution has endorsed 15. Two of the three candidates personally endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez—Bowman and Marie Newman, who unseated anti-choice conservative Democrat Dan Lipinksi in Illinois—won their primaries.
Massachusetts voters are faced with a stark choice between Morse, who supports Medicare for All and a Green New Deal and who is not accepting corporate PAC campaign contributions, and Neal, one of the top recipients of corporate money in Congress. The latter counts insurance and pharmaceutical companies among his biggest contributors, and has taken over twice as much money from Big Pharma as the number two House recipient, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.).
With our victory, we will be gaining power because I'm taking you to Washington with me. We're going to Congress together and we're going to use our power to fight for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. #MorseDebate— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) August 17, 2020
Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement comes less than a week after Pelosi endorsed Kennedy over Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in that state's Senate primary.
"No one gets to complain about primary challenges again," Ocasio-Cortez, who co-authored a Green New Deal climate resolution with Markey, tweeted on August 20 in response to the move by Pelosi, who like other Democrats has criticized members of her party for taking on incumbents.
No one gets to complain about primary challenges again.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 20, 2020
So @dccc, when can we expect you to reverse your blacklist policy against primary orgs?
Because between this & lack of care around @IlhanMN’s challenger, it seems like less a policy and more a cherry-picking activity. https://t.co/xSneSK8H2q
Pelosi's endorsement of Kennedy gave the impression that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's shunning of primary challengers "seems like less a policy and more a cherry-picking activity,'" Ocasio-Cortez wrote.