Per LATimes for 20 years, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera was a familiar face to viewers tuning in for business news on cable network CNBC.
For a candidate for Congress, that visibility could normally prove an asset. But the rules of campaigning in the age of coronavirus have kept her from taking full advantage of it. Not to mention she is seeking to topple an incumbent who is probably even more of a familiar face: media-savvy progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Last week, Caruso-Cabrera was unrecognizable under a black floppy rain hat and a face mask as she loaded aluminum trays of Mexican food into the back of her black Jeep Cherokee parked on a street in Astoria, Queens, while rainwater dripped down from the elevated subway platforms overhead. Instead of pressing the flesh with residents at community centers or outside of supermarkets, her public appearances have been limited to weekly trips to Mt. Sinai Queens, delivering meals she has purchased from local restaurants to the staff at the hospital’s ICU unit.
“When I entered this race, I did not expect it to be in the epicenter of the epicenter of an international pandemic,” said Caruso-Cabrera, 53. “But that is absolutely what’s going on here. I mean, this is the hardest-hit district in the entire country.”
Caruso-Cabrera is one of five candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the seat representing the 14th Congressional District, made up of north-central Queens — which includes Elmhurst Hospital, where the crush of COVID-19 patients became a central image of the crisis back in March — and the eastern part of the Bronx.
The race would be a stretch for any politician, never mind a political newcomer who is a former Republican. Ocasio-Cortez, in the two years since her stunning upset win in 2018, has become one of the country’s most recognizable — and in some circles, revered — politicians. As of Wednesday, she had about $3.5 million on hand for her reelection campaign. In contrast, Caruso-Cabrera has raised about $1 million.
Yahoo reports the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats to the House, says it is prepared to assist Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) with their reelection should the congresswomen request help from the campaign arm.
Neither candidate has reached out to the DCCC with a request of that kind yet, according to the party body.
“We stand by all of our incumbents and will continue working with our members to ensure that we protect and expand the House majority in 2020,” DCCC spokesperson Robyn Patterson said in a statement.
The Tlaib campaign declined to comment on its plans. A spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The DCCC’s offer of support is notable because Ocasio-Cortez, in particular, has criticized the campaign arm for its policy of blacklisting vendors that work for candidates challenging incumbent House Democrats.
Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), another member of the “Squad” of outspoken progressive, freshman lawmakers, won their seats in 2018 through successful primary challenges that they maintain might have been harder to achieve if the DCCC policy had then been in place.
Progressive critics identified the DCCC’s policy as an effort to stifle a progressive insurgent wave on behalf of the party’s conservative wing. Ocasio-Cortez, a prolific fundraiser, has even cited the policy as a reason to justify her refusal to contribute her share of dues to the party organization. She instead prefers to raise money for individual House Democrats who need the help, launching her own PAC in January to further that goal.
But the DCCC made clear at the time that its policy would apply equally to progressive incumbents facing primary challenges from the right.