In the weeks leading up to the election, Mr. Díaz defended himself against liberal attacks, arguing that his religious orientation did not mean that he hated gay people and women, as he told The New York Post, and that his track record was known to his community. “When the Bronx was burning, I was here rebuilding the borough,’’ he said in the same interview. “Look at the Bronx now.’’
But the Bronx now was precisely the problem. The borough has borne some of the greatest burdens of the pandemic — the case rate in the district is approximately four times higher than it is in Greenwich Village and SoHo, for example. The public-health situation was deeply troubling before the coronavirus arrived. The Bronx has a high incidence of maternal mortality and the highest childhood asthma rate in the country.
Unlike the neighboring 14th Congressional District, which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez represents and encompasses parts of northern Queens, the 15th lacks a sufficiently large gentrifying class to have obviously swayed outcomes one way or another. In fact, April polling conducted by Bronx United, a group that organized to defeat Mr. Díaz, indicated that Mr. Torres and Mr. Blake, despite their ages, were not especially beloved by young voters. Andrew M. Cuomo, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Nancy Pelosi all had higher favorability ratings in the district than Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.
The same spring polling data revealed that although the district was by no means a hotbed of millennial democratic socialism, voters were more liberally inclined than conventional wisdom suggested. It turned out that approximately two thirds of voters surveyed believed that homosexuality should be accepted and that abortion should be legal in most cases. The more that voters learned about Mr. Díaz’s regressive social attitudes, Dan Point of Bronx United explained, “the faster they moved away from him.”
When confronted with the choice between placing a vote in the name of cultural ideology and one in the name of survival, older voters, struck profoundly by the pandemic, seemed to choose the latter. In 2016, Donald J. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Florida, among voters 65 and older by 17 points. More than half of Cuban voters in the state, who skew socially conservative, also voted for Trump. But the virus is ravaging Florida; as of the end of May, 83 percent of Covid deaths were people over 65. Priorities might easily rearrange themselves.