Progressive candidates who could be the ‘next Ocasio-Cortez’ prepare for primaries

Here are some progressives who are vying to become the next Ocasio-Cortez.

July 15, 2018, 6:12 AM

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez lavished praise on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently calling her “the future of our party.”

After the 28-year-old progressive candidate unseated House Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Joseph Crowley in an upset in New York’s 14th Congressional District, candidates across the country are looking to her for inspiration.

ABC News spoke with a few of them about their visions for the upcoming primary elections and the nation.

Abdul El-Sayed

Running to be Michigan’s next governor, Abdul El-Sayed, 33, is a medical doctor and Rhodes Scholar who’s been endorsed by Justice Democrats, a progressive advocacy group, Our Revolution, a group borne out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign that supports “a new generation of progressive leaders”, and Ocasio-Cortez.

“I believe a politics of working hard for economic, social, and racial justice can succeed anywhere in America. Michigan is blessed to have Abdul El-Sayed as a candidate for Governor, and I am proud to support him,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

I believe a politics of working hard for economic, social, and racial justice can succeed anywhere in America.

Michigan is blessed to have @AbdulElSayed as a candidate for Governor, and I am proud to support him.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 2, 2018

El-Sayed said he is “deeply thankful” for the leadership and support of Ocasio-Cortez.

“@Ocasio2018 is showing us all how to do it. Thankful for her leadership, grateful for her support, and looking forward to building a more just, equitable, and sustainable America together,” he tweeted Monday after receiving Ocasio-Cortez’s official endorsement.

PHOTO: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed high-fives supporter Sonique Watson in Detroit, Aug. 8, 2017.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed high-fives supporter Sonique Watson in Detroit, Aug. 8, 2017.
Carlos Osorio/AP

El-Sayed’s platform includes abolishing ICE, implementing single-payer healthcare, and free college for families making under $150,000 a year.

Billy Kovacs

Running for Congress in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, Billy Kovacs is a 31-year-old small business owner who’s lived in Southern Arizona for 15 years. His platform includes abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement – a position he’s advocated “since May” – as well as implementing “common sense" gun reform measures and Medicare-for-all.

While Kovacs hasn’t directly spoken with Ocasio-Cortez, he’s been following her race along with the campaigns of fellow progressives.

“Amazing campaign and win for @Ocasio2018 tonight,” Kovacs tweeted on June 26.

In the words of my progressive brother in arms @electgarrick “progressive twitter might break tonight” ?? Amazing campaign and win for @Ocasio2018 tonight in #NY14 #bluewave #progressive #DSA2018 #Midterms2018 #Resistance

— Billy Kovacs (@kovacs4congress) June 27, 2018

Kovacs, a first-time congressional candidate, founded a Tucson-area group of restaurants and describes himself as an “on-the-ground, community organizer.”

As a self-described “6-foot-5, white male talking about a path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, Kovacs hopes to focus on appealing to millennial, Latino, and rural voters heading into the primaries.

Today these kids marched for common sense gun reform, and they also registered to vote! #votethemout. #democracy #vote

— Billy Kovacs (@kovacs4congress) April 20, 2018

“I put 10,000 miles on my car to drive through all of rural Cochise County and meet as many people as I possibly could,” he said. “I’m not rich. I’m grinding, and working my ass off for the vote.”

Tahirah Amatul-Wadud

Running against 15-term Rep. Richard Neal in Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, 44, is an African-American, Muslim attorney who says her hijab makes her “easily visible as a Muslim.”

Having grown up in inner cities, Amatul-Wadud seeks to be a “voice for the voiceless and marginalized.” She’s running on a platform of promoting universal healthcare and boosting infrastructure, including “high-speed internet access for all,” which she says her district’s rural areas lack.

When asked if she supports abolishing ICE, Amatul-Wadud said she’s “in favor of adopting policies that dismantle ICE as we know it.”

“It’s easy to say ‘abolish ICE.’ But my plan is more achievable. ICE is not broken: it’s doing exactly what its mission is to do, which is to terrorize families,” she said. “We need to stop ICE from operating in public school districts and state courts.”

While she hasn’t received an endorsement from Justice Democrats or Our Revolution, Amatul-Wadud said she’s received the support of Indivisible’s national chapter and the Progressive Democrats of America, although she hasn’t had direct contact with Ocasio-Cortez.

Progressive groups @RiseUpWMass @IndivisibleTeam, @pdamerica, FCCPR & Indivisible Williamsburg line up behind #Massachusetts Democrat Tahirah Amatul-Wadud's congressional bid #mapoli -

— Tahirah For Congress (@TahirahCongress) June 23, 2018

“I’m planning to send [Ocasio-Cortez] a congratulatory letter and ask for her help in coalition-building,” she said. “My most important value is to answer the call for unity throughout my district.”

Amatul-Wadud said her district is “so diverse” and she hopes to unite constituents and “secure prosperity” for all.

Ayanna Pressley

The first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, Pressley, 44, is being tipped as another potential Democratic primary upset.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley is taking on a 10-term incumbent in a heavily Democratic majority-minority district as she challenges incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano in Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District.

In an interview with ABC News, Pressley explained that she hopes to not only vote in line with Democrats as her opponent has, but also become a voice of advocacy, something she feels has been missing from Capuano’s tenure.

“I think this is about the party returning to its roots and who we say we are,” Pressley said. “We don’t have to trade our heart for our soul. This is not about working class white voters and everybody else. We are a big tent party. There’s an intersectionality in all of these issues and we need to act like it.”

Ocasio-Cortez gave Pressley a ringing endorsement on Twitter last week, saying, “Vote her in next, Massachusetts.”

“The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”
- @AyannaPressley.

Vote her in next, Massachusetts.

There are more of us, too: @CoriBush, @Chardo2018, @AyannaPressley & more.

We need to elect a corporate PAC-free caucus if we’re going to get things done.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 27, 2018

Cori Bush

Running against Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri's 1st Congressional District, Bush, 41, is an African-American registered nurse, an ordained pastor, single mother, and community organizer who’s received the endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats.

Bush told ABC News she was inspired to run for office after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, which sparked months-long riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I never wanted to be in politics. But after the murder of Michael Brown, I went out there as a medic, and organized protests and marches,” Bush said. “I didn’t see our elected officials out there when we were being beaten and shot at with tear gas and bullets.”

Bush is running on a platform of abolishing ICE, ensuring “quality affordable education,” and promoting Medicare-for-all.

After Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, Bush said her social media platforms “went nuts” while her campaign donations “skyrocketed.”

“We didn’t have $2000 for two weeks, but the next day, we had $2000. There were so many more people noticing and believing in our race,” she said.

Bush said her support within the district “crosses all lines.”

“Everybody wants to be a part of our movement. People are excited and ignited,” she said.

Ilhan Omar

Running to succeed Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, Omar made history as the first Somali-American Muslim legislator elected to office in the United States. Omar, a former refugee, has run on an ardently progressive platform, joining in calls to abolish ICE, supporting a $15 minimum wage and proposing sweeping criminal justice reform.

ICE needs to be abolished—we can’t settle for reform. An agency created only 15 years ago, whose tactics are inhumane and brutal, isn’t necessary for a healthy democracy.

What we need is to pass a clean DREAM Act and provide a path to citizenship for all DACA and TPS recipients.

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 5, 2018

Omar’s district has a sizable Somali-American community, with many former refugees. It’s something that Omar believes helps informs her politics.

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar smiles while speaking during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, June 17, 2018.
Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar smiles while speaking during the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party endorsement convention in Minneapolis, June 17, 2018.
Emilie Richardson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I have always had a very social justice bent approach to everything that I do in my life,” Omar said in an interview with ABC News. “I am a former refugee who grew up in war and understand the kind of trauma that is associated with it.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered support for Omar earlier this month, prior to Ocasio Cortez’s primary victory and Omar securing the support of the Democratic convention in her district.

This fills my heart with joy.@IlhanMN, I can’t wait to take seats in that chamber with you. Let’s do the thing, hermana ??

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 6, 2018

Chardo Richardson

Chardo Richardson, an Air Force veteran and the former president of the Central Florida Chapter of the ACLU, is running to unseat Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Richardson said he entered the race because he was unhappy with the state of politics today.

In addition to supporting Medicare for all and the end of mass incarceration, Richardson supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, has joined calls to abolish ICE, and wants to get money out of politics. He has been endorsed by Brand New Congress, which also endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“I’m standing up for what I believe our country needs,” he added. “While this district is split a lot of’s gonna come down to who turns out the voters. I believe that we can turn out the voters.

Kerri Evelyn Harris

Kerri Evelyn Harris is a biracial, lesbian candidate running to unseat U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del). If elected, she would be the first openly LBGTQ woman of color in Congress.

But more than the diversity of identity that she brings to the race, Harris, a veteran who used to be an auto-mechanic, said adding “we need diversity in experience so that when legislation is written people are not left at the margins.”

Want to learn about another amazing candidate? Here’s @KerriHarrisDE.

Kerri, running in Delaware, drove to New York HERSELF to get out the vote and outfitted her team in Ocasio2018 gear to do the same on Election Day.

She’s a real one. Thank you Kerri!

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) June 30, 2018

Harris told ABC News she believes “part of being a legislator is inspiring your constituents to advocate for themselves.” She's joined calls to abolish ICE and was recently arrested at a protest in the Hart Senate Office Building over the issue.

In addition to calling for Medicare for all, Harris supports universal pre-K, environmental justice, and an end to mass incarceration.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events