(Bloomberg) -- Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gone mainstream. 

The 34-year-old New York Democrat skyrocketed to national fame in the last half decade for her ambitious progressive proposals, in-your-face brand of politics and disregard for party elders. Now she’s serving as President Joe Biden’s emissary to disenchanted young and minority voters, two blocs the 81-year-old desperately needs to beat Donald Trump and win reelection in November. 

In Washington, a city where influence and power are the most valuable currency, the member of Congress widely known as AOC is quickly amassing both. And she plans to capitalize on her newfound place inside the tent to further progressive goals.

“I do feel like I can talk to the president, but I also don’t give things away for free,“ Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent interview at the US Capitol.

Her evolution from firebrand to pragmatist has roiled some progressives, including those who helped her topple Representative Joseph Crowley, a 10-term incumbent and member of Democratic Party leadership. 

She’s also getting hit from the political center in a long-shot primary challenge Tuesday from Martin Dolan, 66, who spent 30 years working for Jefferies Financial Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and other financial firms. Dolan says Ocasio-Cortez is too progressive for the district. 

‘Incremental’ Leader

Ocasio-Cortez likens herself to an engineer, a surprisingly practical self-appraisal given her quick political rise and the legions of acolytes and opponents she’s acquired since she was elected in 2018.

But it’s an assessment that underscores her desire to get beyond rhetoric and steep herself in policy, as she did with her long-stalled Green New Deal proposal and push for student debt cancellation. That’s a big change from the flashy, progressive member of the liberal “Squad,” elected amid a Democratic backlash to Trump’s first years as president in 2018. She and other members of the group arrived on the Hill intent on challenging the party establishment. She frequently challenged then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi in public and in private. After a rocky start, the women mended fences and Pelosi now says Ocasio-Cortez has been “true to her beliefs but not an obstacle.”

“A big part of my role is not about taking a message and sharing it. It’s not about being a megaphone,” the New York Democrat said . “It’s about actually trying to shape and change the material conditions of this country.” 

Doing that, of course, requires compromise, something frequently derided in recent years. It also requires divorcing policy goals from the cult-like personalities — from AOC herself on the left to Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the right — that dominate national politics. 

“A vote for a candidate isn’t always this personal thing of support for an individual,” Ocasio-Cortez says. 

It’s a pragmatic approach, and one that puts her at odds with her own base. 

Corbin Trent, the co-founder of the Justice Democrats grassroots organization behind her 2018 victory, described Ocasio-Cortez and fellow progressive Bernie Sanders as “incremental.”

“What we wanted was drastic, you know, top-to-bottom change of this system,” Trent, who served as Ocasio-Cortez’s first spokesperson, said. “Are they going anywhere towards that? No.” 

Gaza Divide

Nowhere have the divisions in the Democratic Party been more apparent than over Biden’s continued support for Israel, despite growing concerns about the way Israel is prosecuting the war in Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas, a group the US and European Union deem a terrorist organization. 

Ocasio-Cortez has regularly characterized Israel’s conduct of the war as an act of genocide, called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a war criminal and implored Biden to halt military aid to Israel.

For many of Ocasio-Cortez’s own “Squad” and other progressives, Biden’s commitment to Israel’s defense has become a point of no return.

Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, urged Michigan Democrats to vote “uncommitted” rather than for Biden during the state’s Democratic primary in February. Tlaib hasn’t committed to backing Biden in November.

On the Trail

Ocasio-Cortez acknowledges the divides over Gaza within the Democratic party, but stresses that the Biden-Trump rematch is about achieving progressive goals on a range of issues. 

“We are a coalition party, and different elements of the coalition come into the fold with different rationales and reasons,” she said. 

It’s her role to get those voters — particularly young and minority voters who have traditionally been reliable Democratic votes — not only into the fold but to the polls in support of Biden. 

Among 18 to 34-year-olds, Biden is lagging with a 40% favorability rating compared to Trump’s 44%, according to the Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll of seven battleground states in May.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for Biden last week in Nevada, an important swing state that will test the candidates’ support from Latino voters. She headlined a Las Vegas rally focused on abortion access, an issue that will play a crucial role for Democrats in November’s election.

“Four more years of President Biden versus Donald Trump is quite literally the difference between life and death,” she said.

Days later, she and Sanders held a rally in the Bronx for progressive Representative Jamaal Bowman, who faces a tough reelection in New York’s 16th Congressional District. 

The rally in sweltering heat featured prominent figures from the left and drew a diverse crowd that Ocasio-Cortez’s campaigns estimated at about 1,200 people.  

But even the Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s spirited performance couldn’t drown out the ringing bells and banging drums from pro-Palestinian protesters outside the steel barrier surrounding the event.

Nerdeen Kiswani, 29, an activist who was among the protesters, argued that Ocasio-Cortez has sold out the pro-Palestinian community in her embrace of Biden. 

“She has only gotten further and further away from us,” Kiswani said. 

But Ocasio-Cortez’s message still resonates with some progressives, even those disappointed by her support for Biden.

“She’s out there. She’s making mistakes,” said Margaret Palmquist, 32, a progressive organizer. “I wish she hadn’t endorsed Biden, but I also understand why she did.”

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