A.O.C.’s Digital Juggernaut – The New York Times

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Nick Corasaniti, your host on Tuesdays for our coverage of all things media and messaging.

First, a programming note: On Wednesday morning at nytimes.com, The Times is publishing the first in a series of new polls looking at the state of the presidential race and the competition between President Trump and Joe Biden among key groups of voters. In the coming days, we will look at the campaign in battleground states; how voters feel about Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential search; and the mood of the country during a time of crises.

But while you’re waiting for our poll, read on.

What a difference two years makes.

Around this time in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a relatively unknown challenger to Representative Joe Crowley, the entrenched and powerful Democratic incumbent from New York’s 14th Congressional District. Her upset primary victory catapulted her to political stardom and immense influence.

And immense cash. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has raised more than $10.3 million over the past two years, millions of which she has deployed aggressively online, far outpacing her fellow House members.

Since the beginning of this election cycle in 2019, she’s spent $3.6 million on Facebook ads, including nearly $2.4 million since January, according to her campaign. The next biggest digital advertiser among House members in 2020 is Representative Adam Schiff of California, who spent $620,000 online, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

Indeed, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s online spending has outpaced those of most Senate campaigns this cycle, including well-funded candidates like Mark Kelly in Arizona, Sara Gideon in Maine and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

As New York holds its congressional primary elections today, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is facing a well-financed challenger in Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC anchor, who lent her own campaign $1 million recently, though she has spent only about $177,000 online. Though Ms. Ocasio-Cortez remains popular, there has been scant public polling on the race, and her spending is a sign that she is taking the challenge from Ms. Caruso-Cabrera seriously.

(Follow all of tonight’s results here. Polls close in New York at 9 p.m. Eastern time.)

Her advertising on Facebook, where she has spent $406,000 in the past week, runs the gamut from more traditional, polished ads to raw, selfie testimonials from voters, similar to the videos that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez often posts herself on Instagram. (She also turned some of those videos into Facebook ads.)

She has a host of ads promoting her support for canceling Puerto Rico’s debt, expanding reproductive rights, helping veterans and legalizing marijuana.

And she ran get-out-the-vote ads today in at least four languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Bengali.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has also gone on the attack, spending $65,000 on a television ad criticizing Ms. Caruso-Cabrera, calling her a former Republican who “isn’t one of us.” She has similar ads on Facebook in English and Spanish.

Such a well-funded online arsenal would more often be enjoyed by establishment incumbents who build up a war chest over years, not a first-term congresswoman who is an avowed democratic socialist running her first re-election campaign.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is also spending a large portion of her online budget on fund-raising ads. Since 2019, she’s spent about $2.5 million on such ads and has raised more than $4.1 million directly from them, according to her campaign.

Her campaign said that its internal polls from May showed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez leading the primary race by a large margin. Even so, given her own out-of-nowhere victory in 2018, she isn’t taking any challenger lightly, her campaign said.

“It’s the old adage that you either run scared or you run unopposed, and we’re not unopposed,” Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the congresswoman, said.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez mixes her digital financial might with a social media presence that is among the most powerful in politics. Her posts from @AOC on Twitter can drive news cycles, and her endorsements on the platform can draw a lot of attention.

She gave one of those endorsements to a Democratic challenger just north of her district: Jamaal Bowman. Like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Bowman was initially viewed as a long-shot in his race against Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee who has been in office since 1989. But a recent hot-mic moment for Mr. Engel has brought national attention to the race, and a raft of progressive endorsements.

Neither candidate in that race has the kind of digital paid presence of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Mr. Bowman has spent only $101,000 on Facebook this cycle, though nearly a third of that spending came in the past seven days.

Mr. Engel has spent $106,000 on Facebook, though nearly $60,000 of it came in the past week. That’s roughly equivalent to what Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was spending each day over the past week.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.


The national attention on the Democratic Senate primary election in Kentucky on Tuesday has ever so slightly shifted the spotlight away from the man the Democratic candidates are hoping to replace: Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.

But the senator has been aggressively advertising in his home state, spending $6.7 million on television ads this year alone. His most recent ad is simple: 30 seconds of uninterrupted praise from President Trump.

The message: It’s very simple: Mr. Trump likes Mr. McConnell.

The ad is short on policy and heavy on Mr. Trump’s typical compliments of loyalists: “There’s nobody tougher, there’s nobody smarter, he’s rock-ribbed Kentucky leader,” the president says from a rally podium. Eventually, Mr. McConnell joins Mr. Trump onstage, and the ad closes with the two men shaking hands.

The takeaway: Though Kentucky is a red state that voted for Mr. Trump by 30 points in 2016, it has long been a Democratic dream to unseat Mr. McConnell. The election of Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, in 2019 raised the party’s hopes a little further.

But this year, Mr. McConnell is running on the same ticket as Mr. Trump. And it is highly unlikely that the president would lose in Kentucky, providing some lengthy coattails for Mr. McConnell to ride to re-election.


Thanks for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, delivering clarity from the chaos.

On Politics is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.