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Progressive candidates draw comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ayanna Pressley wins primary in latest upset
Ayanna Pressley wins primary in latest upset 01:38

The Democratic side of Congress is almost certainly going to look a little different after the midterm elections this year, as a result of the success of women and minority candidates in primary contests. Race by race, they've begun to make inroads into the traditional white and male establishment of national politics.

The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary against New York Rep. Joe Crowley -- a ten-term incumbent and the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House -- has been a beacon for other outsider progressive women and minorities trying to defeat entrenched Washington incumbents.

Ocasio-Cortez is a self-avowed democratic socialist who supports Medicare for All and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Enforcement, which have become a litmus test for progressive Democrats. She is also a 28 year old Latina who upended the powerful Queens Democratic machine with her defeat of Crowley.

Ocasio-Cortez's stunning victory inspires comparisons now whenever any progressive underdog candidate wins. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, shares many planks of Ocasio-Cortez's platform, and could be the first black governor of the state. 

Ayanna Pressley, who won a Democratic primary against 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano Tuesday night, could become the first black representative that Massachusetts sends to Congress. 

Kerri Evelyn Harris, a mixed race veteran and organizer, will find out Thursday night whether she'll be successful in unseating incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Carper in Delaware's primary. 

Although Pressley and Harris have each been called "the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez" by some media reports because of their shared progressive values and underdog outsider status, the comparisons have their limits.

Kerri Harris, U.S. Senate candidate, Delaware

In Delaware, Harris, like Ocasio-Cortez, is a first-time candidate. She has a military background, is a community activist, and is also an openly LGBT woman of color. Harris is getting some help on the ground from Justice Democrats, the same group that recruited and supported Ocasio-Cortez's primary bid. Carper, meanwhile, has far out-raised Harris, but her supporters are hoping that the enthusiasm around her campaign is enough to propel her to victory.

As was the case for Crowley, Harris' opponent, Carper, has support from big-name establishment Democrats, namely former Vice President Joe Biden, an icon in his home state of Delaware. Biden has recorded robocalls on Carper's behalf. However, while Carper spends a lot of time at home and campaigns regularly in his state, Crowley had a reputation for spending more time in Washington than in his Queens district. 

Delaware selected controversial candidates in primaries in the past -- conservative firebrand and "not-a-witch" Christine O'Donnell won the Republican primary in the 2010 Senate race, instead of the hand-picked establishment candidate. 

Ayanna Pressley, House Democratic nominee, Massachusetts

Unlike Ocasio-Cortez, a first-time candidate whose previous experience was in political organizing, Pressley has been an elected official for years. Pressley previously worked for Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy II and Sen. John Kerry, and so Congress is familiar to her. She was the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council in 2009.

Pressley v. Capuano also differed from Ocasio-Cortez v. Crowley in that Pressley was not running significantly to the left of Capuano, a progressive who has been a reliable liberal vote since 1999.  She readily acknowledged that there was little daylight between their policy positions, but argued that her candidacy was more about representation than policy. 

Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District is the only district in the state with more nonwhite than white residents. Capuano represented the old school of Boston politics, while Pressley ran on changing the face  of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Pressley took a page from Ocasio-Cortez and shunned money from corporate political action committees, raising significantly less than her opponent. During her campaign, she worked to engage more diverse voters, including black voters in neighborhoods such as Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, according to The New York Times

Caitlin Conant contributed to this article.

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