Scholarly Horizons: University of Minnesota, Morris Undergraduate Journal


During the mid-term elections of 2018, primary challenges against Democratic incumbents in Congress captured the attention of national media. One of the most prominent cases of this was the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional District against the ten-time incumbent and Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley on June 26. While her successful primary challenge could be attributed to many different factors, of interest is the way in which she campaigned – bringing into question how primary campaigns have changed in recent years and the rhetoric that hopeful-nominees adopt to secure their party’s nomination. The central question of this research is whether, during the 2018 mid-term primary elections, the rhetoric of Democratic hopefuls more closely matched the same rhetorical strategy adopted by ideologically conservative Republican challengers (i.e. “I am more liberal than Representative X.”)? Or were the appeals based in relation to representing the interests of their constituents (i.e. “Representative X is no longer represents the interests of this district.”)? Through content analysis of the websites of four Democratic primary challenges in 2018, I found that Democratic candidates appear to continue to rely on appeals to interest groups, suggesting that the Asymmetrical Party Theory (Grossman and Hopkins 2016) continues to operate even after high profile losses of more moderate incumbents to liberal challengers in Democratic primaries.