Progressive Democrats in New York notched two major wins in Tuesday’s primaries with the victories of Dana Balter in the 24th Congressional District and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th Congressional District.
Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old first time candidate and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, won with 57.5 percent of votes, unseating incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, a leading Congressional Democrat.
Balter received 62.6 percent of votes to the 37.4 percent garnered by Juanita Perez Williams, a candidate backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) despite reportedly expressing anti-choice views. The win comes after polls earlier this month reported Perez Williams had a 13-point lead over Balter, who had originally been selected by local Democrats to run for the seat and was the presumed nominee until Perez Williams’ last-minute entry into the race in April.
Progressive organizations cheered on Ocasio-Cortez and Balter as election results came in, suggesting that voters across the country are increasingly embracing progressive values and the candidates that hold them. “The battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party was on display tonight in New York’s primaries,” said the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which had endorsed Balter, in a statement on the election results. “In 2018, progressives won’t just ride a Democratic wave into power—it will be progressive ideas and candidates who reflect their constituents that maximize a wave by inspiring voters in blue, purple, and red states.”
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Democracy for America Chair Jim Dean, whose organization endorsed Balter and Ocasio-Cortez, said in a statement that Ocasio-Cortez’s win “is the clearest demonstration yet that when candidates welcome the New American majority of people of color and white progressive voters and run on a bold, visionary inclusive populist agenda tremendous change is possible.” Of Balter, Dean said, “All across New York’s 24th District and the country, grassroots Democrats united behind Dana Balter because they know that to defeat a Republican who stands with Trump 91 percent of the time, we need a progressive leader who is willing to fight for the bold, inclusive populist reforms working families need 100 percent of the time.”
The race between Balter and Perez Williams made headlines in late April when the Intercept reported that Perez Williams had described her personal opposition to abortion rights and parroted debunked anti-choice falsehoods in posts to her personal Facebook page. In a statement to Rewire.News at the time, Perez Williams claimed she believed in abortion rights and would protect them if elected.
Responding to news of Perez Williams’ posts, Balter reiterated her views in a statement to Rewire.News in April. “I am absolutely pro-choice and believe that abortion is a personal decision between a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor,” she said.
Leading up to the campaign, abortion rights remained a contentious issue for the two candidates. Balter this month released an ad pointing to Perez Williams’ social media posts and highlighting how the Democrat had once, as Perez Williams reportedly said on Facebook, “proudly marched” at an anti-choice March for Life rally. “Voters deserve to know that there are clear policy differences between the candidates,” Balter said in a statement. “We’re all tired of politicians telling us one thing and doing something else. A ‘pro-life’ activist claiming she’s pro-choice is something voters deserve to know about.”
The issue arose again during the candidates’ final debate last week when NewsChannel 9 moderator Dan Cummings asked about the role of abortion rights in the race. Balter pointed to Perez Williams’ posts and participation in the anti-choice rally as evidence of a “real difference” between the two Democrats.
“I understand the difference between saying that you ‘proudly marched’ in that event and what she’s saying now,” Balter replied. “She might not understand it. I see the difference and I think the voters do, too.”
Perez Williams reiterated her claim that if elected she would “always protect a woman’s right to choose” and suggested that she had attended the event in support of her son.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Balter have embraced issues considered central to progressive policy platforms, including Medicare-for-All and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Ocasio-Cortez also supports abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).