Sizing up the potential of political candidates requires making the same assessments as those used in prognosticating a boxing match.

With fisticuffs, one of the traits I look for is "ring generalship" — which translates into the ability to dictate the pace and tactics of a bout while also evincing a knack for strategic aggression and defense.

So the boxing analogy comes to mind because you don't get anywhere in New York politics by being a slouch or a wallflower.

Having hustle in your step is essential. A strong work ethic and a concise message are also indispensable. Having a verbal punch that lands like a sledgehammer doesn't hurt, either.

Which brings us to Assemblywoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens).

Just about a year ago, folks in the political game were talking about then Congressman Joe Crowley, King of Queens politics, as a possible heir apparent to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as leader of congressional Democrats.

Then, on June 26, Ocasio-Cortez, a Boston University graduate who paid the rent with tips she earned as a barmaid, knocked Crowley out of his perch in New York's congressional primary.

In the process, the self-described socialist shocked the establishment and became the Democrats' newest rockstar.

Though she has held office for less than six months, Ocasio-Cortez is being discussed in political circles as a potential primary opponent to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The latter is now a longshot candidate for the White House, slated to face New York voters again in 2024.

Schumer's term runs out in 2022.

But how would Ocasio-Cortez play on a statewide stage? Like it or not, national polling shows that younger voters are increasingly open to socialistic positions from politicians.

Meanwhile, Democrats from New York City, noted Harvey Schantz, a veteran SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor, account for some 55 percent of their party's vote in state primaries.

And Democratic primaries have become increasingly important in determining races as the party has steadily increased its voter enrollment tally year after year, he pointed out.

Schantz also noted conventional wisdom would dissuade a holder of a safe House seat from risking that position by challenging an incumbent in higher office.

But everything we have seen suggests Ocasio-Cortez is not the waiting type.

She has been aggressive in calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and marketing her "Green New Deal" climate agenda. She has plenty of moxie, and her populist appeal, in an ironic way, rivals that of Trump's appeal to conservatives frustrated with RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

In 2018, progressives captured six state Senate seats from Albany moderates known as the Independent Democratic Conference.

Another candidate who shares the socialist vision, Julia Salazar, stripped Democrat Martin Dilan of his Brooklyn Senate seat.

So count me as among those who see Ocasio-Cortez as formidable. Just 29 years old and the youngest Democrat ever to be elected to Congress, she has garnered 4 million Twitter followers — more than four times the number of Cuomo, a career politician — while representing just one of New York's 27 congressional districts.

Ocasio-Cortez has shown ring generalship.

But so has Nick Langworthy, the new state GOP chairman, who barnstormed the state in his push to replace Ed Cox as New York's Republican quarterback.

A polling expert, Langworthy is zooming in on issues he is convinced will move voters: the Democratic push to allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for New York drivers' licenses; the parole of convicted cop killers and other convicts responsible for heinous crimes; and an economic climate that has taken its toll on the upstate region.

But the biggest challenge for Langworthy will be to reverse the tide on voter enrollment trends that have made New York Republicans an outnumbered underdog.

His party will not get there if Republicans spend their time posting sophomoric memes on social media that mock Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. The GOP is gong to need to hone a message that resonates with younger voters, people of color and women, in general.

That may be a tall order.

But only when Republicans gain ground with voter registrations will the GOP grab hold of the ropes and pull itself up off the canvas.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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