- Associated Press - Friday, March 29, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) - AOC could stand for “All Over the Campaign.”

For better or worse, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known ubiquitously by her initials, is a big part of the 2020 race for the White House more than five years before she’s even old enough to run for the nation’s highest office. Democrats want her endorsement. They’re being asked to answer for her Green New Deal. And President Donald Trump’s supporters are ready for her.

“AOC sucks!” they chanted in battleground Michigan as the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., riled up the crowd on Thursday. It wasn’t the most descriptive Trump-era branding - think of the president’s “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, coined to evoke trust issues about her during the 2016 campaign. But the episode left little doubt that this former bartender from the Bronx, a self-described Democratic socialist, is the new villain for Trump’s base of supporters.

Just three months into her new life in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is already a coveted influencer Democratic national politics. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called her “the future of our party.” All six senators aiming to replace Trump co-sponsored the Green New Deal she has championed to rein in climate change. And though Ocasio-Cortez is a protégé of one such hopeful, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she’s taking meetings with others. This week, it was lunch with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“We had labneh,” a creamy cheese made from yogurt, Ocasio-Cortez confirmed via Twitter.

“BREAKING: We also had iced tea!” tweeted Warren.

The metrics tell some of the story while the new congresswoman tells hers - down to soup-cooking on Instagram - on every platform and television talk show.

Ocasio-Cortez is known by most Americans despite being on the job just a few months. She’s even got higher name recognition than a handful of presidential presidential candidates such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, according to Gallup polling.

An analysis in February also found that the new congresswoman is polarizing, which would be important to presidential candidates seeking to energize Democratic voters and draw support from undecided or moderate ones.

Ocasio-Cortez has become better known since she was sworn in: In February, a Gallup poll found nearly 7 in 10 expressing an opinion, compared with about half who did in September. But as she’s become a household name, opinions toward the congresswoman have grown more unfavorable, driven by a rise in negative Republican attitudes. Among Republicans, 73 percent express an unfavorable opinion, up from 52 percent in September. Republicans are somewhat more likely than Democrats to give an opinion, but Ocasio-Cortez does see favorable ratings among a slim majority of Democrats (56 percent).

It’s Ocasio-Cortez’s social media mastery gives her much of her power - both by the numbers of followers and a special sauce of coveted authenticity and know-how.

In the last half of February, her handle was mentioned 3.64 million times on Twitter, more than those of the two leaders of Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (1.22 million) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (696,000), combined. Since she took office, stories about the congresswoman have averaged about 2,200 likes, shares, or comments on Facebook, according to the social media analytics company NewsWhip. That’s more than double the typical interactions on Pelosi articles. No other Democrats came closer.

Long before Trump’s supporters chanted her initials, Ocasio-Cortez had vexed them. Some Republican members of the House booed her when she was sworn in. A few suggested that a video of the young congresswoman as a college student dancing on a rooftop was improper. Others took swipes at her knowledge of public policy.

The Green New Deal offers a powerful, but risky, draw for Democrats eager to prove their bona fides on climate change. All six senators - Warren, Klobuchar, Sanders, Gillibrand and Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey - support the plan to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels such as coal and replace them with renewable sources like wind and solar power.

But Republicans have been eager to exploit the risks and potential Democratic divisions on the issue, casting it as a step toward socialism and the worst of costly, big-government policies. None of the Democratic presidential candidates who serve in the Senate joined Ocasio-Cortez to unveil the GND. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “the green dream,” a phrase Ocasio-Cortez had to answer for by saying she won’t let the issue divide Democrats. But there was more.

Within 48 hours of Klobuchar’s presidential campaign announcement, as she aimed for a more moderate lane, the Minnesota Democrat was forced to explain her backing for the non-binding agreement.

“I see it as a framework to jump start a discussion,” Klobuchar said on CNN, saying the GND represents some “aspirations” rather than a mandate for industries.

This week, Senate Republicans forced a vote on the non-binding resolution in an effort to put the Democrats on-record on what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called something out of “a far-left science fiction novel.” He said it might sound appealing in San Francisco (Pelosi’s district), or New York (Ocasio-Cortez’ home state), “the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days, but the communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed by this.”

Instead of voting for the GND, 43 Democrats - including the presidential candidates who co-sponsored the resolution - voted “present.”

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday night, Trump smirked that there was more to come.

“I love campaigning against the Green New Deal,” he said in Michigan. “I want them to make that a big part of their platform.”


Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.


Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

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