In the last 48 hours, since first-time politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent and assumed heir to Nancy Pelosi's House Minority Leader role Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York, much of the mainstream media has been playing catch up. Thursday night, she spoke in front of a late-night audience for the first time.
On "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," the host began with an admission: "I want to confess that I did not know your name on Monday." It was a sentiment that many people shared. Crowley hadn't been challenged in a primary in more than a decade, and as my colleague Joseph Neese wrote, Ocasio-Cortez, who hails from the Bronx, is "a woman of color and a leftist," and thus, easy for media and politicians to discount and ignore. After all, not only did the New York Times neglect to cover her campaign, but Crowley sent a surrogate in his place to the primary debate.
Colbert asked Ocasio-Cortez how she managed to pull out a victory after the polls, just a few weeks ago, had shown her down by 36 points. The 28-year-old politician earned 15 percent more votes than Crowley.
"The first thing to kind of mention is that I don’t think polling is always right,” Ocasio-Cortez said. "People try to identify who is the most likely person to turn out, and what we did is that we changed who turns out. And that changes the whole electorate."
She told Colbert that on election night, just minutes before the polls closed, two teenagers ran up to her after leaving the polls, declaring their support and their vote. They were 19, "voting in an off year, midterm primary election," Ocasio-Cortez said, almost still in shock herself. But her description paints a very different picture than who typically votes at this stage, and certainly, Ocasio-Cortez's victory gives hope for primaries across the country, and for the midterms this fall.
"You describe yourself as a 'democratic socialist,'" Colbert said, "and that's not an easy term for a lot of Americans. What is the meaning of that for you?"
"For me, democratic socialism is about — really, the value for me is that I believe that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live," Ocasio-Cortez replied.
"That seems simple," Colbert said.
"Seems pretty simple," she continued. "So what that means to me is health care as a human right. It means that every child, no matter where you are born, should have access to a college or trade-school education, if they so choose it. And I think that no person should be homeless, if we can have public structures and public policy to allow for people to have homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States."
Colbert wondered if she is concerned about resistance from President Donald Trump, who made no mention of Ocasio-Cortez, but did rip into Crowley for losing the primary on Twitter.
But the progressive politician isn't worried. "I don't think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx," Ocasio-Cortez said.