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Crowley plans to stay on third party line in November, won't endorse a Democratic leadership replacement

At his first news conference on Capitol Hill since being ousted in a New York primary last month, Rep. Joe Crowley took responsibility for the outcome -- saying "this is on me" -- and attempted to downplay the significance of his name remaining on a third-party ballot line in November, chalking it up to the "arcane nature" of New York state's election law.

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Ashley Killough (CNN)

At his first news conference on Capitol Hill since being ousted in a New York primary last month, Rep. Joe Crowley took responsibility for the outcome -- saying "this is on me" -- and attempted to downplay the significance of his name remaining on a third-party ballot line in November, chalking it up to the "arcane nature" of New York state's election law.

"We all play by the same rules and I think there are a confluence of things that led to this loss, but what I will say is this is on me," Crowley told reporters Wednesday, speaking about his June 26 loss to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist. "I did lose, and that's difficult. Not because of a lack of effort."

Crowley confirmed that he had a "brief" and "positive" conversation with Ocasio-Cortez last week, the first since her win. The delay, he said, was simply due to "missed lines of communication."

"Going back to election night, the primary night itself, neither side had each other's phone numbers, and maybe that's more reflective of the fact that people didn't see this coming, nor did we, quite frankly," Crowley said.

Crowley also explained his decision to forgo a complicated procedure to remove his name from the ballot in New York's 14th District, arguing again that the "arcane nature of New York state election law" -- and not any zombie campaign plot -- was to blame.

As it stands, his name will appear on the Working Families Party line, a place he secured with the party's pre-primary endorsement, despite its subsequent request that he agree to have it removed.

"What I think is important to understand is that there has been no direct communication between myself and the leaders of the Working Families Party ... but indirect," Crowley said on Wednesday. "But in the indirect conversation the suggestion was that I would run for county clerk in Montgomery County in upstate New York, a county that I have visited but I have never lived in and don't plan on moving to, nor if I were elected would I serve in that capacity, as well there is a Democrat in that position right now that I would actually be hurting if I ran, theoretically."

In an email, Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, questioned Crowley's definition of "direct," saying he had "spoken to people very close to the congressman" about getting him off the ballot.

"I called multiple times, stressed that this was of the highest importance to us, and made clear that my goal (was) to work with Crowley to find a way we could both agree on to remove him from the ballot line," Lipton said. "We weren't wedded to any particular option, though there were several. The message we received was that Crowley was uninterested in considering any such option."

He added: "If Crowley would like to have further and direct conversations with leaders of the WFP to explore whether there are any avenues remaining to vacate the line, we'd welcome that."

According to the byzantine state law, Crowley would -- as he has repeatedly noted -- have to formally move out of the state, die, be convicted of a crime or agree to switch his nomination to another office -- presumably down the ballot into a race he had no intention of contesting -- in order to vacate his current place.

Crowley has said he believes the process of moving his nomination is on par with "election fraud" and will not engage. (It is, in fact, legal.) Last week, former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, who lost a Democratic Senate primary in 2006 only to win re-election as an independent that fall, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal headlined, "Vote Joe Crowley, for Working Families."

The piece called on Crowley to stay in the contest and for the district to take advantage of his ballot status. Lieberman left Democrats' good graces years ago and is unlikely to sway liberal voters, but his call provoked a response from Working Families Party national Chair Dan Cantor. In a New York Daily News op-ed Wednesday, Cantor called the party's endorsement of Crowley "a mistake" and urged voters to "to stay away from our ballot line" in this case.

Crowley's insistence on Wednesday that he was out of the race echoed pushback from earlier this month, when Ocasio-Cortez publicly alleged that he was plotting a third party run.

That kerfuffle began early on July 12, when Ocasio-Cortez called Crowley out on Twitter after a series of failed connections and accused him of "mounting a third party challenge against me."

Crowley quickly responded, tweeting that "the race is over and Democrats need to come together."

"I've made my support for you clear and the fact that I'm not running," he said. "We've scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I'd like to connect but I'm not willing to air grievances on Twitter."

Asked point-blank by CNN on Wednesday if he is asking his constituents not to vote for him, even as they see his name appearing alongside that of Ocasio-Cortez on the ballot, Crowley said: "Well, I've said I'm not running, so, I've consistently said that."

In an email, a Crowley campaign spokesperson said the message should be clear, writing: "Joe Crowley isn't running, isn't campaigning and said he supports Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. This is a non-story and non-issue."

A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez was reluctant to engage again on the question of Crowley's future.

"We are dead-square focused on winning our election in November," communications director Corbin Trent said, "and feel confident that we have a strong campaign and that we have the support of the community."

Crowley's expected departure at the end of this term will open up a spot in Democratic leadership, leading to questions on Wednesday over whom, if anyone, he intends to back in the race to take over his job.

Taking questions with Democratic caucus Vice Chair Rep. Linda Sanchez standing next to him, Crowley said he is not endorsing anyone for his position and doesn't intend to -- at least "not at this point."

Sanchez and Rep. Barbara Lee, both Californians, announced last week they would run for Crowley's seat as chair of the Democratic caucus.

While he sang the praises of Sanchez -- and acknowledged that Lee was running -- Crowley said he would let the next Democratic class make its own decisions. (As an outgoing member of Congress, Crowley doesn't have a vote in the leadership elections.)

"I will be the chair during that election, for one issue. The other is I think that it's also up to the next caucus to decide who their leadership should be, and therefore I think we have tremendous talent within our caucus," he said. "Linda Sanchez certainly amongst them, as she stands with me here today."

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