NEW YORK (AP) — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is back on the campaign trail, but this time in the Midwest. The 28-year-old Democratic rising star is stumping for two young, progressive Democrats hoping to win Democratic primaries in Kansas and Michigan.
On Friday, she will travel to Wichita, Kansas to join Sen. Bernie Sanders in campaigning for James Thompson, a Democrat looking to flip a congressional seat once considered safely Republican. Then on July 28 and 29, she'll visit Michigan to lend her national spotlight to Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old, progressive candidate for governor. She will travel throughout Michigan, including stops in Grand Rapids, Flint and Detroit.
"Right now we are in a critically important juncture in our country," Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement released by El-Sayed's campaign.
In New York City's boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez came out of seemingly nowhere to upset 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic congressional primaries last month. It remains to be seen if her populist, progressive brand can help win a congressional election in the Midwest. Sanders, of Vermont, beat Hillary Clinton in both Kansas and Michigan in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries.
Ocasio-Cortez, Thompson and El-Sayed are part of Justice Democrats, a political action committee formed by organizers of Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign. They are supporting a number of progressive candidates across the country who are not career politicians and have pledged to refuse donations from corporations.
Thompson, who is a veteran and a civil rights lawyer, came within 6 percentage points of Republican Ron Estes in last year's special election in Kansas. He has one competitor in the Democratic primary.
El-Sayed is Detroit's ex-public health commissioner and looking to upset Democratic former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer.
Primaries in both Kansas and Michigan take place Aug. 7.
"It's a huge boost to our campaign to welcome Sen. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez to Wichita," Thompson said in a statement. "The interest and enthusiasm here has been electric."
Several figures from the leadership of Justice Democrats became closely involved with Ocasio-Cortez's campaign. Saikat Chakrabarti, who founded the PAC and developed technology for Sanders, now lists himself as a senior adviser to Ocasio-Cortez. And Corbin Trent, another leader of the Justice Democrats, is coordinating her press.
The group is looking not only to win elections against Republicans, but target "corporate Democrats" by recruiting candidates with grassroots experience. They are leveraging Ocasio-Cortez's newfound spotlight for victories further afield.
Jake DeGroot, a volunteer for Ocasio-Cortez's campaign, said other campaigns have approached them for advice and asked about some of the tools they used, like an app to enhance voter engagement. He said a team of volunteers from Ocasio-Cortez's campaign is "staying up all night" working on a version of the app other campaigns can use.
But DeGroot said, "It's only useful if there is a candidate for whom people are excited about."
This story has been corrected to note that El-Sayed and Whitmer held their positions in the past.