Kerri Evelyn Harris, the progressive Democrat challenging three-term incumbent Tom Carper in Delaware’s U.S. Senate primary Thursday, hopes to catch lightning in a bottle and topple a politician with 13 straight electoral wins — the most in state history.
So to help boost her chances, Harris was joined on the campaign trail Friday by a fledgling New York City politician who this year has already ousted an incumbent.
Her stumping partner was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became an overnight U.S. political sensation on June 26 when she trounced three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary race to represent parts of Queens and the Bronx.
Harris helped her fellow progressive in that race, so the New Yorker returned the favor with visits to the University of Delaware and Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington.
“Kerri was there. She had my back, and I’m here to have hers because that’s how the progressive movement really works,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd of about 300 students and older residents at UD who showered the pair with applause.
Both women support a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all and reforming the criminal justice and immigration systems. While the New Yorker favors free public universities, Harris supports free pre-K schooling.
Progressives must unite and draw more followers to make the government serve people’s true needs, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“When we build coalitions, when we break down barriers and show the importance of not only championing our own values but championing the values of our neighbors, we can create an unstoppable force in our politics,” she said. “We can transform not just the Democratic Party but the United States of America, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Harris moved to Delaware when she served in the U.S. Air Force at the Dover base as a loadmaster and decided to stay. An openly-gay, biracial woman with two young children, Harris does community organizing and has worked a variety of jobs, including auto mechanic. She contends the she has the pulse of working men and women who must sacrifice to support their families.
Harris, who has portrayed the centrist Carper as a politician who favors corporate interests over the general public, urged her listeners to do their research.
“Look at voting records. Did it serve you and your family and your communities the way they were supposed to,’’ she exhorted. “Vote your conscience, not what other people are telling you to do. Change can come, but only if you choose it.”
Harris and Ocasio-Cortez have attracted voters such as UD graduate student Ethan Scott Barnett.
“It’s an exciting moment in politics, and there’s a change in ideologies and an explosion in politics,’’ he said before Friday’s town hall. Harris and Ocasio-Cortez “are pushing on both sides of the ballot, and I think Delaware has an opportunity to be part of this expansion in political thought.”
In an interview earlier this week, Carper said he doesn’t engage in negative campaigns and always runs for office as if he’s 20 points behind, even as he tends to business in Washington. Results from regular polls that his campaign has conducted are encouraging, he said. And he alluded to working with Ocasio-Cortez should she win her overwhelmingly Democratic district.
“I’m told she’s a very impressive young woman,’’ said Carper, who has also been Delaware’s treasurer, governor and congressman. “Hopefully I’ll get to meet her somewhere down the line.”
The primary vote election is on Thursday. The Carper-Harris winner faces the winner of a Republican primary contest between Rob Arlett and Gene Truono.