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Battle of the bartenders: AOC challenger touts his Cuban roots and working-class credentials

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A bartender who was homeless at one point in his life has stepped up to challenge another former bartender for her congressional seat next year: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Desi Cuellar, a Republican, formed a campaign committee in June and last week put out his first ad targeting the left-wing lawmaker.

“AOC is running and propagating so many leftist policies and it has forced me to feel like I have to do something because I don’t see anyone else doing anything about it in my area,” Cuellar, 34, told the New York Post, using Ocasio-Cortez’s popular nickname.

Though Cuellar is just a few months into his campaign, he has already managed to bank about $60,000 and has been meeting with local Republican groups and operatives including Patrick McManus, the Conservative Party leader in the Bronx who talked with the candidate on Friday, The Post reported.

“He seems like he would be a positive thing comparatively to our current congresswoman,” McManus said, going on to add that he’ll likely be meeting with Cuellar again soon.

In his ad, Cuellar promotes his Cuban and working-class roots, which has been effective for Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and is the daughter of an architect in Westchester.

“I am proof that opportunity exists for anyone in this country, that America is worth fighting for, that our values and our constitutional rights set us apart from the rest of the world,” the candidate says in his add. “But my opponent AOC is doing everything she can to undo what countless Americans have died to preserve.”

The ad, which is almost two minutes long, heavily promotes his personal life journey as being the son of Cuban immigrants who escaped from Fidel Castro’s authoritarian government. The spot also focuses on Ocasio-Cortez personally as well as her “goon squad” of left-wing Democratic socialist associates in Congress.

“I’m here to tell AOC that the party is over,” Cuellar, who says he joined the Army National Guard in 2015, notes in Spanish. He noted that he left the Guard earlier this year to focus on his campaign.

Cueller said that since moving to Queens in 2013 he has mostly worked in the hospitality industry, but when opportunities in those businesses dried up in 2018 he was left homeless for about five months. He also said that he continues to carry burdens from that time, noting that he owes the state of New York roughly $1,200 in back taxes, a debt he says he’s “working on.”

“It was a very difficult time for me. It was very trying and uncomfortable and humiliating,” said Cueller, recounting those days.

Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated the then fourth-ranked Democrat in the House in 2018, Joe Crowley, was re-elected to her second term representing New York’s 14th Congressional District last year with more than 71 percent of the vote over GOP challenger and former police officer John Cummings (27.4 percent). She won her freshman race in 2018 by nearly 80 percent, The New York Times reported.

Jon Dougherty

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