Islam, a first-time candidate, hopes the endorsement gives her bid for Georgia’s 7th District a jolt as she tries to energize voters in a messy June 9 primary that’s further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Her campaign hinges on mobilizing liberal residents, particularly younger voters, who are fed up with center-left policies.
Though her endorsement is coveted among Democrats, it could also electrify Republicans in the district, the home of the tightest House election in the nation in 2018. In that contest, Republican Rep. Rob Woodall narrowly defeated Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.
Ocasio-Cortez is a founding member of the progressive Squad that’s vilified by President Donald Trump and Georgia Republicans, and she is already a constant presence in GOP ads in Georgia accusing Democrats of harboring socialist views.
Islam, a Lawrenceville native, has never shied away from the nickname she earned shortly after jumping in the race - "Georgia's AOC" - as she's embraced many of the policies that helped make Ocasio-Cortez a fundraising juggernaut with a massive social media following.
A child of Bangladeshi immigrants, her progressive platform includes support for "Medicare for all," a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a pledge to back the Green New Deal and plans to vote for legislation that would cancel student debt.
Islam faces competition from a crowd of candidates in the district, which spans parts of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties. Bourdeaux is competing again, as are former Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves, state Sen. Zahra Karinshak and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero.
The Republicans are locked in their own race to the party's flank, with candidates including former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich, physician Rich McCormick and state Sen. Renee Unterman competing for the nomination.
In a statement, Islam credited Ocasio-Cortez within helping shape her decision to campaign for the seat by showing it was “possible to run for office and be unabashedly myself.”
The pandemic, she added, offers a reminder that different policies are needed for marginalized communities in the district, a once-solidly Republican territory that’s now home to fast growing numbers of black, Asian and Latino residents.
“We cannot afford a Congress that only fights for half measures during a full crisis,” she said.