Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens
CNN  — 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked recently if she was ready to rule out – or rule in – a primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) in 2022.

“I don’t know,” the New York Democratic congresswoman responded – answering the questions (or at least ensuring it will be asked again) without actually saying the words. “Honestly, this news cycle is so insane who knows where any of us are going to be in 2022.”

See, it’s simple. Rumors that Ocasio-Cortez, the brightest young liberal star within the Democratic Party (by a lot), might consider taking on the establishment Schumer in 2022 have been kicking around the political world for a while now.

As far back as June 2019, Axios was writing that sources indicated that AOC “may eventually primary one of the two New York senators – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in 2022, or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2024.” And in a big January 2020 profile of Ocasio-Cortez, New York Magazine’s David Freedlander wrote:

“People close to her discussed a possible run for mayor of New York in 2021 but decided against it; a statewide run, probably for the Senate, is likelier. That would mean challenging Chuck Schumer in 2022 or Kirsten Gillibrand in 2024.”

Heck, even President Donald Trump got in on the rumor mill!

“Because of how badly they did with the Impeachment Hoax, AOC will primary Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and win,” the President predicted in February. And, earlier this month, in an over-the-top letter to Schumer, Trump wrote: “No wonder AOC and others are thinking about running against you in the primary. If they did, they would likely win.”

All of this is to say that when Politico asked AOC the Schumer primary question, there is a 0% chance that she a) didn’t expect it and b) hadn’t already figured out how to answer it. Which makes the fact that her answer was, effectively, “we’ll see,” all the more intriguing.

She could have easily said something like I don’t agree with Sen. Schumer on every issue but he is the kind of fighter New York needs and I will support him in 2022. But she didn’t do that. And she didn’t do it on purpose. Because she wants to leave the door open to running or, at least, make sure Schumer is on watch – and perhaps make it more likely that he fights harder for liberal priorities that AOC cares about between now and 2022.

Let’s remember that AOC has some experience with taking down Democratic Party leaders. She won her seat in 2018 by beating then Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley – a man many in Washington thought might the next Democratic Speaker of the House – in one of the biggest upsets of the last 20+ years in American politics.

Of course, beating Crowley in a Bronx and Queens House district in a primary where less than 30,000 total votes were cast is a very different thing than knocking off Schumer, who has been representing New York at the federal level since 1980.

Schumer is an absolute political and fundraising animal – and always has been. After winning with 54% of the vote over then incumbent Sen. Al D’Amato (R) in 1998, Schumer has never been seriously challenged – in a primary or general election since. He won his latest race with 71% and hasn’t dipped below 60% in any reelection race. In 2016, Schumer raised $25 million despite the lack of competitiveness and, as the head of Senate Democrats, he would almost certainly have as much money as he could possibly spend in the event AOC did run against him.

At the end of March, Schumer had $9.8 million in the bank to spend on his next race. Ocasio-Cortez ended March with $3.5 million in the bank – having raised more than $8 million between January 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020. While she might not be able to match Schumer dollar-for-dollar in a primary race, AOC is the only figure in the state who might come close.

The other question to consider is whether there is actually discontent directed at Schumer among Democrats. In the very early days of the Trump presidency, Schumer faced liberal protesters who insisted he was shying away from opposing the new president at all costs. “He has to champion the resistance or he has to get out of the way,” one protest leader shouted at a rally outside Schumer’s home in Brooklyn.

But that anger appears as Schumer has become one of Trump’s favorite punching bags – and fiercest opponents. In a Siena College statewide poll in March 2019, nearly three in four New York Democrats (73%) had a favorable opinion of Schumer as compared to just 22% who regarded him unfavorably. Those numbers were considerably better than how AOC fared among New York Democrats in that same poll; 47% approved of her while 30% disapproved.

Schumer, for his part, is refusing to even engage in speculation about an AOC primary challenge. “Throughout my career I’ve done my job,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “I’ve found throughout my career you do your job well and everything else works out OK.”

Maybe! But if Ocasio-Cortez does decide to challenge Schumer, it would be the race of both of their lives – and a primary for the ages.