If A.O.C. Is So Closely Favored, Why Has Her Race Drawn $30 Million?


All of the world’s money is unlikely to affect the outcome of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s re-election bid in November.

But that didn’t stop people from trying: the competition has unlikely to become the second most expensive home race in the country.

Money flowed in from all sides. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, has raised $ 17.3 million, much of it from small donors drawn in by her star power, progressive politics, and oversized social media presence.

Republican challenger John Cummings, a 60-year-old former schoolteacher at St. Raymond High School for boys in the Bronx and former New York City Police Department officer, raised $ 9.6 million when he first took office.

His election campaign war chest exceeds all but a dozen incumbents. He has a list of donors that any fundraiser would envy. And in the last three months of the reporting period, Mr. Cummings actually raised more money than Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, raising $ 5.5 million to around $ 4 million.

The contest is such a cash magnet that even Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC presenter who lost in the Democratic primary to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez but will vote for the Serve America movement, 2 Raised $ 4 million and lent her another $ 1 million campaign.

The flow of donations is the latest example of how Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 31, has become a magnet for Republican candidates to seek donors based on resentment against them.

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“I guarantee you 75 percent of his contributors know nothing about him,” said Tom Doherty, a Republican strategist, of Mr. Cummings. “I don’t know anything about him other than that he is running against AOC. The people who are financially interested in this race are giving because it’s AOC.”

The big money contest is also a reflection of how a spotlight race can raise millions of dollars for preferred policy strategists and causes that are sometimes far removed from the actual candidates.

Mr. Cummings has made heavy purchases in digital and cable advertising and has covered his borough, which covers parts of Queens and the Bronx as well as some areas outside of them. He has hired advisers like Lincoln Strategy Group, an Arizona-based firm whose founder Nathan Sproul, a longtime Republican, has faced fraud allegations over the years.

Mr. Cummings has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailers and hired Big Dog Strategies, which clients include the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC designed to help Republicans win a majority in the house, and America First Action, a pro-Trump Great PAC.

He has also hired Smart Media Group, a Virginia company that works closely with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to handle multiple six-figure purchases and media ad placements.

According to the Facebook Ad Library, a public database of all the ads on the platform, the campaign has spent $ 560,000 on Facebook ads in the past three months. An overwhelming majority of the campaign’s contributors come from outside New York.

“In the long run, this race won’t help you build the party I think we need,” said Doherty. “This is not a race we’re going to win, but that’s where we are in American politics today.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has also spent a lot of money on Facebook ads, buying $ 1.6 million in the past 90 days. Part of the ad buying is aimed at building their own network for small donors so as not to have to rely on Facebook, which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez criticized for failing to review political advertising, according to her campaign.

She has also spent campaign funds to get New Yorkers to complete the census and hand out meals to New Yorkers struggling financially because of the pandemic. A digital advertisement Ms. Ocasio-Cortez ran about participating in September censuses had 2.1 million views.

“We are making sure our fundraising drives bring real investment to the community beyond transaction policy,” said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.


Oct. 24, 2020, 9:34 a.m. ET

In just the past two weeks, Mr. Cummings’ campaign has spent more than $ 2.4 million while Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign has spent $ 614,000.

Mr Cummings has used his ads to introduce himself to voters as someone who has lived and worked in the Bronx for decades, suggesting that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was an outsider who attended schools in Westchester County. He criticized her for speaking out against Amazon and finding a second headquarters in Queens.

Mr Cummings is attempting to target moderate Democrats he calls “Joe Crowley Democrats,” a reference to the former high-ranking Democratic leader who Ms. Ocasio-Cortez defeated in a disgruntled major victory in 2018.

“She has done an incredible job of creating a national personality, but neglecting the district,” said Cummings in an interview.

Mr. Cummings’ campaign manager Chapin D. Fay admitted that surprise was still unlikely given the predominantly democratic makeup of the district, but suggested that his candidate’s total fundraising campaign underscores how polarizing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the voters is.

“I just sensed national fundraisers against someone like AOC would be successful,” Fay said. “I can’t believe it would be that successful, but we knew he could raise a few dollars to drive a race.”

Mr. Fay, who previously served as press officer and public affairs director for Governor George E. Pataki, has also benefited from the donation flow. Lighthouse Public Affairs, a company founded by Mr. Fay, raised tens of thousands of dollars to administer the campaign and handle local media purchases.

Mr Cummings, who said he supports President Trump and defends his much-criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic, has not focused on the president, who is deeply unpopular in his hometown.

He said he plans to continue meeting voters on the streets until election day because he believes there may be local dissatisfaction with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

“They don’t like them, they don’t like what the hard left stands for, and they appreciate what I do,” he said. “If we close strong, we can do this race.”

Mr Cummings said he requested a debate but did not expect his opponent to agree to one. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign said she was invited to a debate at the last minute by a “third party moderator” but was hired elsewhere.

“To be fair,” said Cummings, “nobody wants to argue about a high school citizenship teacher.”

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