Rep. John Yarmuth’s phone was going off nonstop.
“I’m in a text message chain with about 25 members, and it blew up last night,” the Democratic congressman from Kentucky told reporters Wednesday morning.
He was recalling the shocking news that his colleague and the No. 4 Democratic leader in the House, Rep. Joe Crowley, lost his primary in New York to Democratic socialist challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The stunning results immediately prompted widespread speculation over not only what it meant for the Democratic Party, but how it could affect the hotly anticipated leadership race this fall should Democrats retake the majority.
Yarmuth, describing the text chain from the night before, painted a picture of disappointment yet intense curiosity among his colleagues over what comes next. Crowley was on the text chain but didn’t say anything.
“Obviously, everybody in there was a friend of Joe’s,” he said. “It was basically disbelief, shock, a lot of outpouring of emotion and sympathy for Joe.”
While the feeling of shock among Democrats was pervasive on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning, the conversation was quickly turning from surprise to analysis — with some eager to weigh in on the ramifications, while others urged people to take a breath.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was hesitant to come down with any sweeping takeaways from the race, especially on whether Democratic socialism was on the rise within her party.
“They made a choice in one district. Let’s not get yourself carried away,” she said at a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning. “It is about that district.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, said he saw Crowley’s loss as a matter of demographics, not a broader indication of the direction of the party.
“I believe that demographics are everything in politics,” Connolly said. “Joe Crowley’s loss to a very talented young woman who better reflects the district from a demographic point of view was probably inevitable, if not last night then sooner or later.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida stressed a need for members to stay laser focused on their races and districts.
“The best advice any of us can take is, you know, your folks can take you out as quick as they put you in,” she said. “You can never take them for granted, and I’m not suggesting Joe Crowley did whatsoever. He, as I said, is and was an excellent member of Congress, but each of us has to make sure that we take every race as seriously as possible.”
Crowley was considered the likely challenger to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, in vying for top leadership positions in the next Congress should Democrats retake the majority.
The news out of New York Tuesday night threw that leadership race into a free-for-all given that there was no immediate next-in-line challenger to fills Crowley’s shoes.
The primary, in which the victor was 28 years old, also amplified an existing debate over whether the current leadership should make way for younger leaders. The top three Democrats in the House are all older than 70.
A senior Democratic aide argued there will be another younger member to emerge as the rival to Hoyer. Aides and members have mentioned multiple names – just a few of them include Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the current chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm; Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Rep. Cheri Bustos, a co-chairwoman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
Hoyer declined to answer any questions Wednesday related to leadership races “I believe it’s important we focus on taking back the majority,” he told reporters. “We’ll get into leadership issues later on.”
Many argue there’s a deep bench of potential leaders who have a wide range of ages.
“I could name names going from ’92 right up through people who got elected in the last election cycle who I feel confident about,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus (Crowley is the chairman), has previously called for “a new generation of leaders” and said Wednesday there was “real depth and breadth of talent” in the party and “there are any number of people who would be excellent in leadership.”
Asked by a reporter if she will run for Crowley’s spot, Sanchez argued she would be a “good caucus chair” but she wasn’t making any announcements.
“I have yet to connect with Joe. I’ll continue to reach out to members of the caucus,” she said. “Again, we are still processing. Again, anything can happen. So I’m not going to speculate.”
Yarmuth – while reluctant to jump “over Joe’s body ‘cause we all love Joe,” as he put it — predicted that Sanchez would have “broad support” if she ran for caucus chair. He also said he expects newly elected members, like Ocasio-Cortez should she win in November, to have a strong presence in determining the next leaders as well.
“I wouldn’t take anything for granted if I were in leadership now,” Yarmuth said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty, Jeremy Herb, and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.