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House Democrats seek to explain Rep. Crowley’s loss

New York primary upset

Changing demographics, the appeal of a fresh young female challenger, lack of face time at home – House Democrats found an abundance of reasons Wednesday to explain why the number four House Democrat, New York Rep. Joe Crowley, lost his primary to 28-year old self-described socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

What it's not, they said, is a sign of a party wide problem.

"It's because of a number of things but in 24 hours we do not have that analysis," Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said. "That fact that in a very progressive district in New York went more…to the left than Joe Crowley is about that district. It should be viewed as something that stands for everything else."

When CBS News Chief Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes asked Pelosi about Republican claims that democratic socialism is ascendant in the party, she hotly contested it.

"It's ascendant in that district perhaps! But I don't accept any characterization of our party presented by the Republicans," she said.

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, said his takeaway from the primary was, "you don't want to run against a Democratic woman this year." He cited Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot who beat the popular mayor of Lexington, Kentucky in the Democratic primary to challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky).

"She was a fresh face, she tapped into a lot of the new energy that's out there and I think that's what happened in Joe's district as well," he said. "To that extent I think it represents something that we should benefit from as we move into the midterms, that there's a lot of energy out there that some of our fresh new faces will be able to tap into and take over some seats that we might not have otherwise have been able to take back."

He said that his text message chain with about 25 members "blew up" as election results came in Tuesday night. "I think it's two things: one is disappointment for Joe, stunned, and very curious about whether there's any takeaway," he said. "But nobody has any answers."

But Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, R-South Carolina was ready with an answer.

"Joe is a great guy, but I don't think he paid enough attention to those constituents at home," he said Wednesday morning.

Clyburn, like Pelosi, insisted that Crowley's defeat did not result form the simmering tensions between the mainstream wing of the Democratic party and those who fashion themselves in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, as Ocasio-Cortez did. She advocated for positions including a federal jobs guarantee and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, positions few of her future colleagues on Capitol Hill are fighting for.

"I don't think there is that kind of divide," Clyburn said when asked about the tension between the two wings of the party. "I think that we all have…our bases at home to protect. You don't get here without staying close touch with your districts so too often, we tend to forget that those of us in leadership have two sets of constituents. The first ones are the ones who elected you to this body and if you don't get to the body, you don't got no chance to anything else."

Crowley's loss was quick to spark questions about who will succeed him as chairman of the Democratic caucus, a position that was expected to help him launch a bid for minority leader or even speaker one day. His number two at the caucus, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California, said she thought she would make a good caucus chair.

"Having said that I'm not making any announcements. I have yet to connect with Joe and I'll continue to reach out to members of the caucus, but again we are still processing and again, anything can happen so I'm not going to speculate," she said.

Yarmuth said he believed she would enjoy broad support within the caucus if she ran, though it's unclear given her very narrow margin of victory for vice caucus chair when she was elected in 2016. Plus, Sanchez angered Democratic leadership when she said in an interview last year, "I do think it's time to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders."

Sanchez wouldn't speculate on whether Pelosi might become speaker in the fall, saying the first priority is to win back the House during the midterms.

But her colleague, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, told reporters Wednesday morning that if anything Crowley's race was a sign that it's far from guaranteed.

"We cannot take anything for granted this election year," she said. "I refuse to say a Blue Wave is coming because it's not gonna come if we don't work hard every single day."

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