Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders Star in Their Own Iowa Buddy Movie
CORALVILLE, Iowa — It was her first visit to Iowa, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bounded onstage like she was speaking to a hometown crowd in Queens.
“Are you all ready for a revolution?” she said, as rap lyrics in Spanish rang through the crowd. “I sure am.”
Her question was a fitting prelude for the man Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was there to introduce: Bernie Sanders, who has been pushing a similarly insurgent message for decades.
Like Mr. Sanders, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York, spoke of solidarity. Like him, she name-dropped Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“When people try to accuse us of going too far left — we’re not pushing the party left,” she said, to raucous applause, “We are bringing the party home.”
On a two-day swing through Iowa this weekend Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Sanders, the senator from Vermont, traversed the state in tandem, an unlikely duo separated in age by nearly half a century, spreading their ideology in an unlikely place. They held rallies in Council Bluffs on the state’s conservative western edge and in Coralville, near the liberal home of the University of Iowa. They hosted a climate change forum in Des Moines.
The trip was their first together since Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 30, endorsed Mr. Sanders, 78, last month, a decision that immediately jolted the Democratic primary and injected fresh energy into his campaign. Less than three weeks after he suffered his heart attack, they held an enormous rally in New York City that both demonstrated his political strength and deflected attention away from his health and age.
Now, as Mr. Sanders reboots his campaign and prepares for an all-out push in Iowa, he is on a quest to lure the progressive left to him and away from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and to convince the country that they need a wholesale revolution rather than “big, structural change.”
In Iowa, having Ms. Ocasio-Cortez by his side could prove a powerful weapon, as he and Ms. Warren remain locked in an intense battle to win over progressive caucusgoers with political appeals and policy plans. Mr. Sanders’s campaign is confident that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez will help motivate young people, a group that was critical to his success in 2016 but is now also excited by Ms. Warren, as well as the entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
His advisers are also betting that her support, as well as the endorsements of Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, will help counter the criticism that he is running a campaign that appeals only to white, young men.
Indeed, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez cut a striking image: An older Jewish man from Brooklyn alongside a young woman of color from the Bronx — the standard-bearer of the American left and his protégé — together in the Midwest to share their message of democratic socialism.
Even Mr. Sanders, who takes politics more seriously than most, couldn’t resist cracking a joke about their partnership.
“People sometimes say that Alexandria and I are an odd couple, that she is so old and I am so young,” he said in Council Bluffs on Friday night. “But that’s okay. I’m not an ageist.”
At all of three of their public events in Iowa, the atmosphere was festive, with little of the paternal scolding that can sometimes characterize Mr. Sanders’s speeches. There were no homemade signs — the campaign does not allow them, fearing they could block the view for TV cameras — but there was a silhouette of Mr. Sanders’s head projected onto a wall in Coralville.
Onstage, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez clasped hands, raising them together — him beaming like a proud professor, albeit one who seemed to understand he might soon be eclipsed by his student; her commanding an audience that was at once rapt and ebullient.
“I cannot think of any member of Congress who has done more within one year to fundamentally transform American politics,” Mr. Sanders said in Council Bluffs.
Yet what remains unclear, even after her positive reception this weekend, is whether Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and the political ideology that she and Mr. Sanders embrace resonates beyond Iowa’s more liberal pockets. Mr. Sanders is still running third in most polls, faces formidable competition from Ms. Warren for progressive voters and is likely to endure nagging doubts about his fitness right up until the first Iowans caucus on Feb. 3.
“It plays moderately well in blue areas, but far less well in areas that voted Republican in 2016,” said Steven Drahozal, the Democratic chair in Dubuque County, Iowa, which narrowly voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. “They have been painted as socialists, and that turns off many moderate and Republican voters.”
But if Iowans are used to seeing Mr. Sanders, they are less used to seeing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and several attendees expressed particular enthusiasm for catching their first in-person glimpse of her.
“Everyone loves Bernie and especially A.O.C.,” said George Holtz, 18, as he waited for the rally in Coralville to begin. “I’m excited to see him but I’m really mostly here for her.”
A student at the University of Iowa, Mr. Holtz said he was still trying to decide whether to caucus for Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren. But he said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s support for Mr. Sanders was swaying him, particularly because of what it signaled about her appreciation for his policies to combat climate change. “If Alexandria is supporting him, then I feel like I should too,” he said.
His friend, Isabella O’Connor, 19, was equally enthused about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, even though she was an intern on Ms. Warren’s campaign.
“I loooove A.O.C.,” she said. “A.O.C. is my role model. She inspires me in a way that I haven’t seen. And that’s because she is young and she is unapologetic and she is unafraid. I respect her so much.”
Before the climate change forum in Des Moines, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez canvassed for Mr. Sanders, going door-to-door to speak directly with caucusgoers. During her public appearances with him, she at times seemed to dazzle the audience with her stage presence and her elegant political phrasing.
“This is not about something that we allow to happen to us,” she said at the rally in Council Bluffs, which drew a significant number of people from more liberal Omaha. “We don’t let this race happen to us. We don’t watch the presidential race. This is not a movie. This is a movement.”
She also subtly hinted at her own political ambitions.
“I’m here today in Iowa because I want to grow, because I want to learn,” she said at one point. “Because I want to learn about your fight so that I can take that and stitch it together with the Bronx and stitch it together with Baltimore and stitch it together with rural upstate New York and stitch it together with our black brothers and sisters in the South.”
It was a message that left an impression with audience members like Vivian Banderas, a 27-year-old from Omaha, who said after the rally that she had “started crying when Alexandria was talking about her story and her struggle.”
“It’s just amazing to see someone with that background up onstage,” she said, calling the partnership between Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Sanders a “dream team.”
Mr. Sanders’s campaign boasted repeatedly about their crowds this weekend, saying he and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez spoke to thousands of people in their two days in Iowa.
But nowhere was it more apparent than in Coralville on Saturday night which of the speakers many of them had come to see: As soon as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez finished speaking, people began to head out the door.
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