In This Episode
How can we recruit a new generation of winning candidates? Three young, recently-elected Democrats talk about what it’s like to run for office. Learn more: www.thewildernesspodcast.com
The Wilderness with Jon Favreau is presented by Honey. Join for free at www.joinhoney.com/wilderness
Speaker 1 [sponsor note]
[news clip] Tuesday night, Democrat Patty Schachtner, shocked Wisconsin. The seat was held for 17 years by Republican Sheila Harsdorf.
[news clip] Last night, Democrat Mike Revis won a special election for Missouri State House District 97. Rivas carried the election by three points in a district that Donald Trump won by twenty eight points.
[news clip] Democrat Javier Fernandez has been elected to fill the Florida House District 114 seat.
[news clip] Democrat Conor Lamb with a stunning upset.
[news clip] Allison Ikley-Feeman. She’s a 26-year old lesbian mother out of Tulsa in one of the most conservative red districts in the country. Guess what happened? She won.
[news clip] In Virginia, of the more than a dozen Republican seats flipped, 11 were won by women.
[voice clip] You try to spread racism and xenophobia and sexism, misogyny. That’s how we respond.
[voice clip] I make a point here that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify—that you have good public policy ideas, if you’re well qualified for office, bring those ideas to the table because this is your America too.
Amanda Litman: If we want to widen the pool of people who can run for Congress and statewide elections and president one day, we need to widen the pool of people in government earlier. I don’t think we should have an amateur as president. But where do you expect people to get the experience if not at these local local levels?
Jon Favreau: Amanda Litman is on a mission to transform the Democratic bench. This former email director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign started an organization with a name that’s also its message: Run For Something.
Amanda Litman: So in the weeks after Election Day, I started hearing from friends from high school and college who reached out to me to say: hey, you know, politics, you’ve been working in this world for your entire career, if I’m thinking about running for office because Trump is president, and if he can do it, anyone can, what do I do? I didn’t have a good answer for them. There wasn’t a group that existed that if you were young and new to politics and freshly engaged but didn’t have a lot of money, that could help you run for office. State parties were hit or miss. Emily’s List wasn’t focusing on local elections at that time. There just wasn’t an answer. And the more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that that was a problem that had led to a whole bunch of other problems: a lack of focus on young people, not just as voters, but as leaders. A lack of focus on local politics in and of its own sake. And a pretty weak un-diverse pipeline of talent for the future. I went on vacation—a well-earned, very depressing vacation—like a month after Election Day, and was reading the Emily’s List book by Ellen Malcolm, which is deeply depressing in retrospect, because it’s all about how we’re building to elect the first woman president. But in it, she talks about how she created Emily’s List to change the gatekeepers, and to make it so that if women who previously weren’t seen as viable candidates, could become viable candidates by an institution declaring it so—because it is that easy. And I realized: oh, we could do this, we could make an organization that did the same thing that Emily’s List did for women, but for young people in local politics. So I sent emails to like 30 or 40 people saying: here’s an idea, is this dumb? Who’s doing this? Why aren’t they doing this? What am I missing? One of those people was a former coworker of mine who immediately connected me to her husband, who’d been having a pretty similar idea for the last 5 years, 10 years. And she was like: you two should talk. So Ross Morales Rocketto and I sat down and we talked and talked and talked and talked and wrote a plan, and found a board of advisors who when we talked to said: yeah, put my name on this, it’s fine, I think it’s a good idea, it’s important. And then on Inauguration Day, we launched.
Jon Favreau: Run For Something has now recruited more than 1,500 first time candidates. In 2017, they endorsed 72 candidates across 14 states. 35 of those candidates won their races. Just over half of those city councilors, school board members, county commissioners and state legislators, are women and 40% are people of color. They’re the future of the Democratic Party, and they’re just the beginning. It turns out there’s at least one useful thing that Donald Trump’s good at: recruiting Democratic candidates. In some ways, electing our worst person president was the kick in the ass that some of our best people needed. As we just talked about in the last episode. Democrats didn’t focus enough on state and local politics over the last decade, which is a problem that trickles up. Less talent at the state and local level ultimately translates to a national bench of candidates who aren’t as diverse or experienced. It also means less exposure to progressive policies in the smaller towns and redder states that we need to flip for a majority. But the good news is that this is finally changing. There’s a new generation of young leaders who are showing Democrats the way out of the wilderness. And in this episode, we’re going to hear from some of them. We’ll also talk about some of the recruitment strategies and debates we’re having as Democrats try to build a better, deeper bench of candidates to compete for every office everywhere. I’m Jon Favreau. Welcome to The Wilderness.
Jon Favreau: We’re in the middle of an historic recruitment wave for the Democratic Party. It’s pretty exciting. But first, let’s talk about why our current roster looks the way it does. Too old, too white and too male. Amanda Litman has a few thoughts.
Amanda Litman: There is a systematic problem of state parties and state and House Senate caucuses being dramatically underfunded and under-resourced. So not having the time to dedicate to candidate recruitment, number one. Number two: these groups that were doing candidate recruitment as much as it existed were not incentivized to take risks. It’s scary to say we’ll elect the first woman or the first African-American to any given position. So they wouldn’t try. They would shortcut the system. Instead of doing outreach or seeking out perhaps risky candidates, they would find people they knew, their former staffers, former elected officials, small business owners, who could raise money. So that usually meant rich old white men, often lawyers. And most places weren’t doing candidate recruitment to begin with, not in any grand scale kind of way. They were doing for targeted seats, for open seats, for vulnerable incumbents. But it wasn’t like: let’s flood the marketplace with people running—because there was limited money.
Jon Favreau: So no surprise there. Better recruitment requires more time, more money, and a party that’s willing to take a few more risks. And to be honest, we still haven’t nailed that last part. Last episode, we talked a little about the Democratic congressional committees decision to throw their weight behind certain candidates who are running in primaries with endorsements and fundraising help. The intention here appears to be a good one. The DCCC wants to make sure that in every district, Democrats nominate the candidate who they think has the best chance of winning in the fall. And so they look at polling, they look at how well the candidates’ positions on different issues match up with the voters positions on those issues. They look at the candidate’s background, and they put a lot of emphasis—too much, I’d argue—on the candidates’ ability to fundraise. The problem is that kind of process often favors candidates who are more reflective of the political establishment. They have more name recognition, they have more connections to wealthy donors, and they tend to come from a small, predictable subset of professional careers: lawyers, consultants, political aides, government contractors. They also tend to be a bit more centrist, old, white and male than the demographics of the party as a whole. But we’ve seen that those kind of candidates aren’t necessarily more electable. How many consultants in D.C. suspected that a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama would become a two-term president and the most successful fundraiser that the party’s ever had? How many believe that the most electable candidate to take on a conservative Republican incumbent in suburban Virginia who’ve been in office for 26 years was a transgendered journalist named Danica Roam? National Party committees absolutely have a role to play in candidate recruitment and support, the kind of fundraising and organizing support they’re offering right now in the general election. But in the primaries, I think they should give voters more of a say when it comes to questions about electability. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the DNC, agrees:
Keith Ellison: We should encourage a broad cross-section of people to run and then whoever that is, wins the primary or the endorsing convention, that’s who is our candidate, right?
Jon Favreau: Right. And Keith is especially concerned about letting fundraising abilities stop the best candidates from entering the fray.
Keith Ellison: I don’t like it when us Dems start out with the money question because it discourages a whole lot of really good people. You do not have to be a self-funder. If you are, that’s OK. But what we really want is somebody who has connection to the community that they represent, people who have been serving for years: you’re a teacher, you’re a nurse, maybe you’re a police officer, maybe you have started an important organization that’s been serving people and you want to take your nonprofit advocacy into the statehouse. We are looking for you to represent our party. We need passion. We need people who have a commitment to grassroots, commitment to people who really understand the larger picture that the Democratic Party is not really about helping the Democrats. It’s about helping all Americans, and people who have a deeper, broader sense of the real beauty of this country, and when we’re at our best, how great we really are and can be. That is what is most important. I think that if you are passionate and you believe in people and you tell them why you’re running, the money will come.
Jon Favreau: I’ve always believed that this is the single most important question candidates need to answer: why am I running? To put it another way: why me and why now? Amanda says this is a big component of the Run For Something recruitment playbook.
Amanda Litman: Running for office is hard and miserable and there’s not enough money and not enough glamor, and you’re never gonna have enough power to make it exciting or glamorous, so you need to be driven by something internal and self-motivated. And it needs to be more than anger at Trump. So we ask people first to identify the reason they want to run for office. And most people will say: oh, what could I win or what’s open? And we try and flip that. What is the problem you want to solve and how does the office you’re running for let you solve it? If you can clearly answer that question, the why of your campaign is so much easier, and not just why do you want to win, but why should your voters want you to win? If you are passionate about it and care about it and it’s why you’re running for office in the first place, be comfortable with that and be authentic with that and it’ll come through.
Becky Bond: I was very involved in the election of Larry Krasner to be the District Attorney of Philadelphia.
Jon Favreau: Becky Bond is now the president of the Big Organizing Project, which advises candidates on how to create volunteer driven campaigns.
Becky Bond: Philadelphia is the fifth biggest city in the country and it’s the most incarcerated per capita. And Larry Krasner ran in a big field of candidates for district attorney, and he’s a civil rights hero, and his candidacy was seen as laughable by the police unions and by the political establishment. But Larry ran on some big ideas, including stopping putting poor people in jail just because they can’t pay fees, not charging people who are using marijuana with a crime. You know, looking at how we treat undocumented immigrants who get pulled in for a parking ticket and not wanting to put them in a system where they could be deported. And because he had these big ideas that he wanted to implement when he was in office, a lot of people came out to work for him. He was fighting for real change that we need to see in our cities. And he was elected not by a thin margin, but by a huge mandate. And it was a total shock.
[clip of Larry Krasner] Every right to expect that we will get transformational change in criminal justice and in this district attorneys’ office.
[voice clip] I cannot remember a DA-elect who has spoken in the way Larry Krasner has tonight. This is a 30-year civil rights attorney, a progressive, who argues that Black and brown people in Philadelphia have, in essence, been victimized by the criminal justice system. He says he has a mandate. He says he has brought new voters to the polls and he expects to move forward—
Jon Favreau: The election of Larry Krasner, the District Attorney in Philadelphia, was a big deal. He made some big promises and so far he’s kept them. In his first week, Krasner fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office who weren’t committed to the changes he wanted to make. He’s instructed prosecutors to decline certain charges, like for marijuana possession. He’s changed the way prosecutors offer plea deals, and they now have to state and justify the cost to taxpayers of incarcerating every person who’s sentenced, which is something that’s never happened before. To paraphrase one of the best pieces of advice that my friend David Axelrod gives candidates: Larry Krasner didn’t run to be something, he ran to do something. And voters could tell the difference. Having a deep sense of why you want to run and what you want to do, also gets to another key component of what it takes to be a successful candidate.
Van Jones: I think what is going to make the most difference: are you authentic? And do people think you care about them? The basics.
Jon Favreau: Political commentator Van Jones:
Van Jones: be a real person, care about real people. If you’re three steps to my right on this issue and two steps to my left on that issue, people will forgive that. But in this environment, man, you better be who you are.
Jon Favreau: Authenticity is a word that’s overused and a quality that’s hard to define. I like to think about it as being completely comfortable in your own skin, running on what you believe instead of what you think the voters want you to believe. Speaking like a real human instead of a consultant’s approximation of what a human might sound like. Being less afraid of committing the occasional gaffe and coming off as blow-dried and phony. And even though authenticity can be hard to define, most voters find it pretty easy to spot.
Becky Bond: For those of us who don’t live and work in Washington, D.C., there’s all these ways of being that politicians and people that work for them that seems normal to them, that when you sort of go out into the rest of the country, it seems really, really weird. As someone who travels the country just talking to voters, you realize you say these things and then they’re like: what are you talking about!? Right? And you realize how easy it is to get so far from how people actually communicate and talk and what they care about.
Jon Favreau: Becky, brings up an important point, what voters care about. Bruce Reed, Bill Clinton’s Domestic Policy Adviser, and Joe Biden’s former Chief of Staff reminds us that not all Democratic voters care about the same issues, or have the same beliefs.
Bruce Reed: Not everybody is going to have the same views in Missouri as they’re going to have in New York State. And we can’t expect everyone to toe every party line on everything. We need to have some core pillars of the Democratic faith that hold us together, and that matter most. But the best way to win a district is to find a good candidate who fits the district, who can articulate the Democratic case in the native tongue with a lot of respect from the locals.
Jon Favreau: Bruce Reed suggestion goes against the idea of what a lot of political types refer to as a litmus test: the notion that a Democratic candidate should hold a certain set of views on a certain set of issues or else the party shouldn’t support them.
Van Jones: I think a litmus test from people on the coasts for people in the heartland are just by definition, stupid.
Jon Favreau: Van Jones, again.
Van Jones: Like this is a very big country. It’s not your 300 friends on Facebook. It’s not the 3,000 people who are on your campus when you’re in school. It’s 300 million people. We’re a continent-sized country.
Jon Favreau: On one hand, Bruce is right when he says there are certain core pillars of the Democratic faith that should hold us together. On the other, the idea that every Democratic candidate should have the exact same position on every issue seems pretty hard to enforce and more importantly, antithetical to our values as a party. After all, who gets to decide what those positions are? Party committees in DC? Certain activists and organizations? That doesn’t seem very democratic. It’s an issue that party leaders grapple with every campaign season. And when you get down to individual campaigns and candidates in different states, you tend to find a more nuanced conversation than you do on a national level.
Jane Kleeb: I’ve never been one to turn my back on somebody because they identify as pro-life. I try to understand where are they coming from as a voter and as a politician, and try to understand that that one issue does not define their entire political career.
Jon Favreau: Jane Kleeb is chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. She’s pro-choice and recently saw this debate play out in real time.
Jane Kleeb: We have a lot of pro-life Democrats in our party, not only here in Nebraska, but at the national level. Obviously, Tim Kaine is probably one of the most high-profile pro-life Democrats within our party. And I think the issue of choice and you know, how if you define yourself as pro-life is deeply personal, and often complicated, and is for the vast majority of us as Americans, not a black and white issue, and that we all usually have a deep personal reason of why we call ourselves pro-life or pro-choice. And Heath has a very personal reason.
Jon Favreau: Jane is referring to Heath Mello, who ran as a Democrat for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, in May of 2017. Heath was a member of the Nebraska legislature and is pretty liberal on just about every issue: immigration, gay rights, climate change, unions—everything except abortion. Mello is a practicing Catholic who was born to a 16-year old mother, and during his early years as a state legislator, he cast a number of anti-choice votes. But by 2012, his record changed and he began his campaign for mayor with 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.
[clip with Heath Mello] My good friend, Senator Bernie Sanders! [cheers]
Jon Favreau: Still, when Bernie Sanders came to Omaha to campaign with Mello during what was billed as a Democratic unity tour, pro-choice activists weren’t happy, even though Mello and people like Jane Kleeb tried to argue that his personal beliefs wouldn’t lead him to support restrictions on abortion.
[voice clip] NARAL, a pro-choice group called the DNC his backing of Mello, quote “politically stupid.” The Daily Kos withdrew their endorsement.
Jon Favreau: Originally, DNC chair Tom Perez said “If you demand fealty on every single issue, then it’s a challenge.” After the controversy erupted, he released a statement that said “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health.” A month later, Mello went on to lose to an anti-choice Republican by six points. Here’s Jane Kleeb again.
Jane Kleeb: I think people confuse that when we say that we welcome pro-life Democrats, with some people, they hear that we then want to make abortion illegal. And that’s not true at all. I think as the Democratic Party, we have to continue to be very clear where we stand on that issue. And there is no question that as a party, we believe that abortion should remain legal, and that women are the ones who make decisions for their bodies, not some politician in D.C. or in Nebraska. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we think that pro-life Democrats don’t have a seat at the table. They do, just like pro-pipeline Democrats have a seat at the table. And as a party, we have to decide, are we actually a party that is saying we welcome all of these ideas to make sure that we’re actually strengthening our party? Because what I hear are excuses from some progressives where they say: oh, you know, conservative and moderate Democrats, pro-life Democrats, they make our party weaker. From my perspective—probably because I know a lot of conservative and moderate and pro-life Democrats—I think they make our party stronger. They make our bills more durable. They’re bringing voters, who are not all progressive in our country, to the table with their ideas.
Keith Ellison: Look, the Democratic Party is a pro-choice party. That is who we are. That’s what we’re about. But if we say no pro-life people, then we wouldn’t have been able to pass the Affordable Care Act. That’s just a fact. I mean, and also pro-life Democrats are people who tend to say: I will support comprehensive sex ed, I will support prenatal care, I’m not going to be supporting a transvaginal ultrasound. They may say: this is how I was raised, this is what I believe. But they’re ten times more reasonable on these issues than a pro-life Republican, who tends to be extreme and fundamentalist and doesn’t even really care about the life of the mother. So I think that, you know, we’ve got to take a slightly more nuanced approach here. You’re not going to get the most progressive person in every inch of this country. Some communities are going to have folks who have records that other communities wouldn’t produce. So we’ve got to remember that we’ve got to have some level of tolerance and nuance for the diversity of the country.
Jon Favreau: I should point out here that a candidate’s position on choice is just one example, and it may not even be the most common or divisive example. There are Democratic candidates who aren’t as liberal as the National Party on gun control or climate change. There are candidates who are more liberal than the National Party on health care or minimum wage. Some are more hawkish than others on foreign policy. I agree with Keith that we need a nuanced view here. In a Democratic primary, I want to vote for candidates that align with my views on as many issues as possible. That’s more important to me than somebody else’s notion of electability. I don’t want the National Party to tell me who to vote for, and I don’t put a lot of stock in who they think can win. I want to support the person I believe in. Once we get to the general election, it’s a different story. If it comes down to a choice between Heath Mello and an anti-choice, anti-immigrant, anti-union, climate-denying Republican, I choose Heath every time. Do I wish West Virginia had a more liberal senator than Joe Manchin? Absolutely. And if I lived there, I’d support a more liberal candidate in the primary. But I also know that if Joe Manchin hadn’t voted to protect the Affordable Care Act in 2017, there wouldn’t be an Affordable Care Act right now. So I’m glad he’s in the Senate and I want him back there. The same goes for the other conservative Democrats who’ve taken some votes that drive me nuts. From a candidate perspective, I think you should run on what you believe, period. Even if some of your positions are to the left or right of the National Party. If you think those positions are out of step with the district or state where you’re running, you don’t have to talk about them all the time, but don’t change them. Voters are more likely to forgive you for taking a position they disagree, with than lying about a position in order to get their support. Voters understand that you’re more complex and nuanced than the little box that your opponents or the media want to put you in. Danica Roem is a great example of this. In November of 2017, the people of Virginia elected Danica to their House of Delegates, making her the first transgender person elected to statewide office. She was a Run For Something candidate. She wasn’t afraid to talk about transgender issues, but she also didn’t center her campaign around those issues. She focused on something quite different: traffic and congestion on nearby Route 28.
Amanda Litman: What she needed was to be able to argue to her voters on how she was going to make their lives better in a meaningful, specific, close to their day-to-day life way. That’s what our Democratic candidates have to do, both on a local and national level. They need to make sure that voters understand why them winning matters to their lives.
Jon Favreau: Want to hear more about how Danica Roem and two other young Democrats carved a path to victory? Stick around. We’ll talk to the candidates themselves after the break.
Jon Favreau: One of the bright spots for the Democratic Party right now is the historic number of candidates who are running for the first time. Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe you’re thinking that someday you could be. Or maybe you just want to know what it’s like to take the plunge and become a candidate for public office. The best thing I can do for you here then, is to make myself scarce, and turn the rest of this episode over to three Democrats who’ve recently won their very first campaigns.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: I am Jennifer Carroll Foy and I represent Prince William and Stafford County, which is the second district for the House of Delegates.
Seth Moulton: I’m Seth Moulton, the congressman for the 6th District of Massachusetts.
Danica Roem: My name is Danica Roem. I’m the delegate from the 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Jon Favreau: Jennifer and Danica, whom Amanda and I spoke about earlier, were elected in November 2017 to the Virginia House of Delegates. Seth, the congressman from my home district back in Massachusetts, was elected in November 2014. Together, their stories should give you a pretty good sense of what it’s like to run for office, and how to win. As every good candidate should, we’ll start with the why.
Danica Roem: Route 28 has been a mess most of my life. And I remember being in sixth grade, waiting until 6:30, 7 o’clock at night for my mom to come pick me up from school because she was battling traffic for two hours on 28. And 20 some odd years later, nothing had changed and I decided to run to go change it.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: I had always been politically active. I had volunteered with Obama’s campaign, Hillary’s campaign and Bernie’s campaign. I decided to run right after the November election when Trump was voted in as President of the United States. I was disturbed. I felt angry and helpless and hopeless, and I wanted to funnel that energy into something productive. It wasn’t enough to scream at Fox News or to log off Facebook. I knew that there had to be a response. I needed to be a counterbalance to Trump, because this was too important. Our society was at risk.
Seth Moulton: I came back from the war and got out of the Marines and missed public service much more than I expected. I thought I’d do my three and a half years in the Marines and then would never have to look back and say: I wish I had done more to serve my country. But instead I really miss the sense of purpose that I had in my life. Even in the midst of a war I disagreed, with my work every single day, impacted the lives of other people. And so that’s why I decided to get involved.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: Being an attorney, I greatly understood and appreciated that everything revolved around the law. And I knew that we need a great people to run in all offices to be able to say: that this is not going to be the status quo, we are not OK with this, he does not represent what we stand for, these are not our American values. So I decided to put my hat in the race and say I’m going to be the change that I want to see.
Seth Moulton: My own district was represented by a very partisan incumbent who’d been there for 18 years and only passed one bill. And so I said: we can do better than this, we can get more done. And I was too naïve to know that you’re not supposed to run against an incumbent in your own party. So I went back to Massachusetts and started putting together a campaign, not really knowing anything about it myself. I mean, I don’t have any political background. You know, the first congressman that my parents met was me. But the beauty of America is that anyone can run. And so I threw my hat in the ring and announced that I was going to take on this incumbent. And then everyone in the national Democratic establishment and every politician in Massachusetts just about came up to me and said: not only you’re going to lose this race, but by challenging an incumbent, you’re never going to be able to run again. And fundamentally, what they were telling me was: you know Seth, do not participate in the democracy you risked your life to defend. And that’s wrong, I rejected that.
[news clip] This is certainly the upset story of the night. The 18-year incumbent, John Tierney, ousted by the 35-year old political newcomer.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: I was the anti-establishment candidate, and what that means is that no one recruited me to run. And so with that comes some issues, meaning that you may not have the backing of a lot of organized groups that you otherwise would seek help from, that will provide moral support or financial support. But what I can tell you is that the harder that I worked, other groups started to identify me. So while organized caucuses and Democratic organizations may not have invested in me, I can tell you that Sister District did, Vote Pro-choice did, Run For Something, Emily’s List.
Danica Roem: Flippable was huge. They, I think they do like $10,000 at one point. Indivisible NoVa West, they really came out to bat for us in terms of knocking on doors. And what was also really nice with Indivisible NoVa West here in Virginia is that they had in-person absentee voting. And so people who would be going to the library who weren’t there to vote, Indivisible NoVa West volunteers would be standing outside handing them our information, our literature and telling them about our campaign, and basically asking them, hey, would you consider going vote right now? You can get it done. And because of that, I was fortunate enough to be the first Democratic candidate in well over 26 years to win absentee ballots in the 13th District. And that was pure product of volunteers like Indivisible. No question.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: All of these people who are more liberal and progressive, they said we actually love the fact that you’re the anti-establishment candidate because we want to shake things up. And we don’t believe that certain people get to pick the politicians. The people need to pick who will be their voice and who they want to lead them.
[news clip] Call this the aftershock to Trump’s electoral earthquake. Newly-elected women storming into Virginia state government from Jennifer Carroll Foy, to Danica Roem: elected as the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: I believe it is important to be a person of the people, and for them to know that I am accessible, because I loved what Obama says to the American public: I work for you, you’re my employer, that’s who I answer to. And that’s my creed. And I greatly believe that as a public servant, that that’s who I work for, is my constituents.
Seth Moulton: I served with Marines from all over the country, from Massachusetts and Vermont, but also from Alabama and Texas. And we came together with remarkably different backgrounds, different religious beliefs, different political beliefs. But at the end of the day, we were able to set aside our differences to do what’s best for America. And that’s what Congress should be doing as well.
[clip of Seth Moulton] Let’s stop this nonsense and work together on common sense solutions the majority of Americans want. I yield back the balance of my time.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: Some of the legislation that I brought forth this session—as a freshman I brought 20 bills, which is a heavy, heavy lift. It is a lot. And I felt all of it. But, you know, I wanted to get to work, and I wanted the people in the Second District to know that I’m very serious. And I’m not just here to take up a seat and to hold a title. I’m here to effectuate change.
Danica Roem: Know your district, know your district, know your district, know your district. What roads are most important in your district? What transportation issues do you have? You know, tell me about water pipes. Tell me about your local jobs situation. Who’s your largest local employer?
Seth Moulton: I mean, our party leadership right now is from a generation that watched 12 a.m. flash on their VCRs for thirty years. I mean, this is just not the folks, I think, that are really thinking about what the economy of the future is going to look like, and how we meet those challenges rather than trying to go back to an economy that doesn’t exist anymore.
[news clip] And it’s not just Republicans this Democrat is taking on.
[clip of Seth Moulton] It’s time for new leadership in Washington. I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership in Washington, and in the Democratic Party.
[interviewer] And in the Democratic Party? You do?
[clip of Seth Moulton] I do, yeah.
[interviewer] What does that mean?
[clip of Seth Moulton] Well, it means that some of the leadership that we have today, mostly in their mid to late 70s, I think time to move on. It’s time for some fresh blood.
Seth Moulton: I think historically we’ve had a real problem with recruiting people in the party. We tend to pick just the next person in line, whoever’s done his dues. And I say his because it’s usually a he. And instead, this year, we have an incredible diversity of candidates, and we have a lot of people who are totally new to politics. Of the 19 service veterans that I’ve endorsed who are running in key swing districts around the country, there’s only a couple who have ever held any sort of office before, and then just local office. Almost all of them just want to serve their country again.
Danica Roem: To me, primary campaigns should be based on positive campaigning, on: here’s what I bring to the table. If you’re applying for a job, the person doesn’t hire you because you talk the most amount of trash about, you know, the other applicants. You’re hired based on your merits.
[Danica Roem ad] I’m Danica Roem. For more than nine years, I covered a beat: my lifelong home of Prince William County. As the lead reporter for the Gainesville Times, I wrote more than 2,500 news stories, vetting facts and holding politicians feet to the fire . . . I’m Danica Roem. I’m running for office because my identity shouldn’t be a big deal, because this shouldn’t be newsworthy or political. This is just who I am. There are millions of transgender people in this country, and we all deserve representation in government.
Danica Roem: I hope if my campaign has shown anyone anything, it’s that you can be who you are, you can be that well, and you can thrive while doing it. Transgender people get stuck in traffic too. Transgender parents want to make sure that their kids have a world-class education, just like anyone else. Transgender parents want to make sure that their kids are safe in school. Right? And so when I focus on that, what that basically does is say, like: look, I’m a member of our community, too. And I say “our community” because, you know, I have as much right to live there as anyone else. And trans people, LGBTQ people and, you know, any other minority group will always have particular issues that are unique to our groups, and we need to highlight them so people understand them, and so that we can overcome the systemic problems, you know, that stem from that. At the same time, if as a candidate, I’m not focused on traffic, jobs, schools, health care and, you know, the very basic core quality-of-life issues that the people of the 13th District care the most about, then I’m not going anywhere, because at that point it just becomes like: oh, all she wants to do is talk about, you know, blah, blah, blah. Well, no, for me, it’s like: yeah, I’m a transgender person who absolutely cares about equality, and I care about our roads, too. I don’t see it as “but this,” I see “yes, and.”
[news clip] Danica Roem is the first transgender woman elected in Virginia, and the first elected to a state legislature anywhere in the country. Her election to the Virginia House of Delegates, she beat Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, who has been in office for 25 years and proudly has been calling himself “Virginia’s chief homophobe.” He was the author of failed legislation in Virginia to ban transgender people from using public bathrooms of their choosing.
Danica Roem: You have to work hard doing all the sort of stuff that you’re supposed to do for voter engagement, for, you know, whether it’s raising the money, knocking on doors, making phone calls, people need to be inspired by you. You can’t just hate your way into office. Democrats win when we inspire people, Democrats win when we provide hope for people, when we say: this is the change that I see. Give people a reason to vote for you.
Jennifer Carroll Foy: Do it. Don’t talk about it, just do it because we can easily talk ourselves out of it. Is it going to take a lot of sacrifice? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Will you no longer have weekends and time to yourself and for your significant other? Yes. Will it be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done in your life? Yes, but it is also rewarding. And it is necessary, and it is needed. We need diverse, dynamic candidates to step up to the plate and run, especially women. In this time, right now, we are over 50% of the population, but we make up a small percentage of legislators and that is a significant issue. We have to have a seat at the table and we can only do that if we have quality candidates that run. And as we have seen from this last wave of elections, when women run, we win. We are all the time make excuses: well, we have children. The majority of the women who ran in Virginia this last election, we all have children. I have identical twin boys who are seven months old. I was pregnant during my entire campaign. So other people were complaining about knocking doors, I was like: well, try that carrying two humans inside of you, with morning sickness and swollen ankles. I mean, it’s necessary. It’s something that needed to be done. I felt that this was bigger than me. And if I wanted to have a world and society that I felt good about my sons growing up in, then I need to help lead this change. So once you have that passion and you don’t let anyone talk it out of you—there will be many naysayers, people who tell you: you can’t do it, you’re wasting your time, you’ll never win. I’ve heard it all. And at the end of the day, put your head down and run.
Jon Favreau: Put your head down and run. Best advice I can think of. And what Jennifer said about needing more women to run—she’s right about that, too. In 2018, a record number of Democratic women are set to run at all levels, which is why we’ll spend our next episode following one of these new candidates on the campaign trail. See you there.
Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is written and directed by me, Jon Favreau of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Zach Akers and Skip Bronkie of Two Up, and Ruth Lichtman. Tanya Somanader of Crooked Media is our co-producer. Andrea B. Scott is our editor, and David Fox is our assistant editor. Our archival producer is Rebecca Kent, and our archival researcher is Gianna Jefferson. Music by Marty Fowler. Sound design and mixing by Joel Robbie. Tracy Lien is our lead interviewee researcher. Additional writing from Zach Akers and Andrea B. Scott. John Maynard and Dan Kelly were a recording engineers. Fact checking by Anna Altman. Promo segment editing from Allison Grasso. Agency services from Ben Davis at WME. Legal services from Dean Bahat at Ziffren Brittenham and Chad Russo at Ramo Law. Clearance counsel is Kathryn Alimohammedi from Donaldson + Califf. Thanks for listening.