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Can the Ocasio-Cortez Playbook Work in the Heartland? Cori Bush Is Trying

Can the Ocasio-Cortez Playbook Work in the Heartland? Cori Bush Is Trying

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Cori Bush was running the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playbook.A progressive political outsider, Ms. Bush had promised “big change” for a St. Louis congressional district that has had the same representative for nearly two decades. She had championed Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college. She had vowed to…


ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Cori Bush was running the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playbook.

A progressive political outsider, Ms. Bush had promised “big change” for a St. Louis congressional district that has had the same representative for nearly two decades. She had championed Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college. She had vowed to speak for those who felt unheard.

“We should have a voice in our community, and we should be important!” she told a handful of black business owners at a coffee shop here last week. “That’s something that I want to take to D.C.”

Now, just days before Tuesday’s primary against a powerful and long-tenured incumbent, Ms. Bush’s campaign has become a test case for how effectively the insurgent left can convert its energy into upheaval at the ballot box — and whether Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s success in New York City can be replicated in other regions.

In Missouri, the conventional wisdom suggests this: The revolution may not have arrived in St. Louis just yet.

Here’s what’s coming up next on the primary calendar.]

Ms. Bush, who made her name in the district as a prominent activist in the aftermath of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, brushed off the idea that Mr. Clay would never lose.

“The theory that people say, ‘Well, that’s such a machine and we have to be loyal to who was there before’? I heard it a lot at first. I don’t hear it as much anymore,” she said in an interview between campaign events last week. “I’m hearing more people saying that we want change.”

the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus backed the incumbent, Michael E. Capuano, over Ayanna Pressley, a Boston City Council member who would be the state’s first nonwhite female House member. And Mr. Clyburn said he planned to campaign in Florida for Stephanie Murphy, a blue-dog Democrat facing a challenge from Chardo Richardson, an Air Force veteran who is backed by the progressive group Brand New Congress.

“I really don’t believe this thing is as generational as people seem to be wanting to make it,” Mr. Clyburn said. “It’s about your vision.”

Because of Mr. Clay’s stature in his Missouri district, Ms. Bush mostly avoids direct attacks on him — more often referring to him as “the incumbent” or “the other person.”

ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new light rail station. “This is what I do. I’m used to this.”

He has won all of his nine general elections for the House with at least 70 percent of the vote.

He acknowledged, however, that while he considers himself a progressive, candidates like Ms. Bush and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez have changed the word’s definition, pushing it to the left. “I don’t know what the new litmus test is,” he said, “and I’m really not sure if I can pass that according to some.”

Read more about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigning in the Midwest.]

Buoyed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and a visit she made to campaign with Ms. Bush last month, Ms. Bush has picked up some momentum.

She got a shout-out recently on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” On Wednesday, she secured an endorsement from the progressive group Democracy for America. Nina Turner, the head of the Bernie Sanders-aligned advocacy group Our Revolution, campaigned with Ms. Bush this weekend.

I Like It,” in part because she and her advisers thought it would help her appeal to young voters.

She was worried, however, about the optics of using a song with a Latin sound, because she said she had been accused of not caring enough about the black community.

“It’s almost like I should be solely focused on just issues that affect black people directly,” she said later. “We have to all work together.”

Despite the long odds Ms. Bush faces, there may be no better race to assess the actual power of an anti-establishment progressive message than here, where Mr. Clay, and his father before him, have held power for the last half-century.

Ms. Bush, for her part, remains undaunted, especially after seeing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez win.

“Before it was kind of like, ‘It is an uphill battle but you might be able to do it,’” she said. “Now, it’s like, ‘O.K., we think you’re going to do it.’”

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