Ocasio-Cortez's PAC endorses several progressive challengers in bid to counter establishment Dems

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., continued her crusade against establishment Democrats on Friday when she announced her new political action committee was endorsing several progressive congressional candidates who sought to unseat Democratic incumbents.

Announced in January, the Courage to Change PAC is likely to deepen rifts within the party as the 2020 elections approach. It's reportedly set up to serve as a counterweight to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which Ocasio-Cortez flouted earlier this year by not paying party dues. Fox News reported in January that the progressive icon took issue with the committee "blacklisting groups that help progressive candidates."

While the freshman congresswoman has already feuded with incumbent Democrats, Friday's announcement made it clear that she would marshal substantial resources to achieve a progressive majority in Congress. According to The New York Times, the PAC's fundraising email directly accused the DCCC of trying to discourage "working class candidates" who lacked the necessary resources for a congressional run.

The PAC's endorsements included four House candidates running to unseat Democratic incumbents: Marie Newman for Illinois' fifth district, Samelys Lopez for New York's 15th district, Jessica Cisneros for Texas' 28th district, and Teresa Fernandez for New Mexico's third district.

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Two of the candidates are seeking office in seats held by Republicans, including the Texas seat occupied by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. One of the endorsements is for Georgette Gomez, a California Democrat who wants to fill the state's open 53rd district.

In an interview with the Times, Ocasio-Cortez emphasized the need to reward political courage. “It’s important for us to create mechanisms of support because so much of what is happening in Washington is driven by fear of loss,” she said.

“We can really create an ecosystem that makes people more comfortable into making the leap to make politically courageous choices.”

Ocasio-Cortez's own campaign received attention for taking on one of the most powerful Democratic incumbents and winning in 2018. Behind her candidacy was Justice Democrats, an organization that, like "Courage to Change," seeks to prop up progressive candidates across the country.

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One of the congresswoman's closest allies, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has already joined the movement to unseat establishment Democrats in 2020. At the end of January, Sanders endorsed Cisneros, who's running against a perceived moderate, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.

Cuellar, who has spent more than a decade in Congress, has received criticism over support for anti-abortion legislation. He also received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and took donations from KochPAC, a PAC representing the interests of Koch Industries.

Ocasio-Cortez's announcement also signaled that pro-life Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, Ill., will face additional challenges in a race that's already become a struggle for him. At a fundraiser in January, Lipinski indicated he faced a tough reelection bid. Both his opposition to abortion and his support for President Trump's impeachment set him up for opposition with a wide swath of the electorate.

Both Lipinski and Cuellar have panned the outside endorsements.

“While our opponent focuses on out-of-district and celebrity endorsements, we are focused on endorsements from people who actually live and work in the district,” Cuellar spokesman Colin Strother reportedly said. “That’s why we have over 225 local elected officials endorsing Henry Cuellar for reelection.”

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Lipinski argued in September that Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement highlighted how extreme his challenger was.

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Marie Newman makes crystal clear that Ms. Newman is an extreme candidate who is completely out of step with the voters of Illinois' Third District who do not want to be represented by a fifth member of the 'Squad,'" Lipinski said.

Fox News' Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.