As four U.S. senators running for president remain mostly stuck in Washington for Trump’s impeachment trial, they are relying on surrogates to campaign for them in Iowa, where the caucuses on February 3 will formally kick off the 2020 nominating contest.
Everybody’s got ’em. Joe Biden has two of the three current Democratic U.S. House members from Iowa, Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenaur, plus former two-term governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry. Elizabeth Warren has former presidential candidate Julián Castro (and his twin brother, Representative Joaquin Castro). Less connected D.C. pols like Pete Buttigieg tend to rely on celebrities like Mandy Moore.
But Bernie Sanders is unique in having a surrogate that is creating as big a stir as he would: New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Perhaps it is a coincidence that Sanders’s recent rise in the polls — following a heart attack and the momentary fear he’d drop out — all happened after AOC’s high-profile endorsement. But there’s no question that she is a political rock star in her own right, and Iowa is just the latest venue to light up when she arrives, as BuzzFeed News reports:
With Sen. Bernie Sanders largely stuck in DC in the days leading up to the first contest of the 2020 election, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is storming across Iowa for his campaign and making a big name for herself in the process.
On Saturday morning, the Sanders campaign’s field office in Cedar Rapids was filled with chants of “AOC” as Ocasio-Cortez walked to the front of the room. Her reputation — driven by her Twitter presence, her role in the vanguard of a new generation of progressive Democrats, and by the prolific attacks on her from the right — had somewhat preceded her.
But it seems Iowans who didn’t know her at all were very impressed, too:
For [some] voters at the Sanders campaign events in Iowa on Saturday, however, this was their first time really getting to know her, and in some cases, the first time they’d even heard of her.
Close to two dozen voters who spoke to BuzzFeed News over the course of the four-stop day, including two with Sanders, said they were impressed with her — several adding that they would like to see her be part of a Sanders cabinet, and could see her running for president down the track. (Ocasio-Cortez, who is 30, is not yet old enough to be president or vice president.)
If Sanders wins in Iowa, which is not a bad bet, AOC will be just one of many supporters sharing the celebration. But it would without question burnish her reputation as a superior communicator with an unlimited future, and a surrogate who can boost any candidate’s appeal:
“She’s got such a captivating voice. She makes you feel like she’s no more important than you,” said Matt Schneider, 23, a Sanders volunteer canvasser at the Cedar Rapids event on Saturday morning. He added that he would “support her in almost anything she does.”
Political staffers who spend time laboring in obscurity in Iowa or New Hampshire refer to that duty as “punching a ticket for the presidential,” meaning a chance to come back in a more elevated future capacity. In AOC’s case, she could be punching a ticket for something much bigger, if her honeymoon with Iowa progressives is any indication.