D.C. women’s fight by flight

In bid to turn red states blue, fe­male pro­gres­sives re­turn to home towns to run

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MICHAEL ALI­SON CHAN­DLER

Be­fore Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent, Laura Moser was a free­lance writer delv­ing into a project about al­ter­na­tive re­li­gions in Amer­ica. In the months af­ter, she be­came a leader of the re­sis­tance against the pres­i­dent, launch­ing a text mes­sag­ing plat­form that en­abled hun­dreds of thou­sands of shell­shocked Trump op­po­nents to con­tact their rep­re­sen­ta­tives about a dif­fer­ent is­sue each day.

The suc­cess of that ef­fort spurred the 39-year-old Capi­tol Hill mother of two to think about what else she could do. In the mid­dle of the Trumpred elec­toral map, she saw an op­por­tu­nity: The 7th Con­gres­sional District in her home town of Hous­ton went blue for the first time, tip­ping to Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton by one point. Rep. John Ab­ney Cul­ber­son was re­elected, but Moser saw the con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can los­ing touch with the fast-grow­ing, in­creas­ingly di­verse district in which she grew up.

First she started re­cruit­ing other peo­ple to run. But she said her con­ver­sa­tions kept cir­cling back to “What about you?”

she packed up her row­house and moved her three cats, two young chil­dren and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant hus­band 1,400 miles away to vie for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion to chal­lenge Cul­ber­son in 2018.

“I had to work up the courage to even imag­ine my­self run­ning for Congress,” she said. “But I even­tu­ally de­cided that our coun­try had a moral prob­lem in only let­ting white men — even the right-minded ones — have a seat at the ta­ble.”

The Women’s March in Jan­uary brought mil­lions of women into the streets na­tion­wide who were smart­ing from the de­feat of the na­tion’s al­most-first fe­male pres­i­dent and protest­ing a vic­tor who had bragged about grop­ing women. Some car­ried signs that said, “Don’t Just March, Run.”

Na­tion­wide, women still oc­cupy a small per­cent­age of the more than 500,000 elected of­fices. They com­prise 20 per­cent of mem­bers of Congress and 25 per­cent of state leg­is­la­tors. Th­ese num­bers changed lit­tle in the past decade — not be­cause women weren’t win­ning cam­paigns, but be­cause they weren’t wag­ing them.

Now there’s a surge of fe­male can­di­dates seek­ing to bring back Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties and trans­form gov­ern­ment from the in­side out.

Emily’s List, which re­cruits and trains Demo­cratic fe­male can­di­dates, has heard from nearly 15,000 women in­ter­ested in run­ning since Novem­ber. That’s up from 900 dur­ing the en­tire two-year 2016 election cy­cle.

Some of the new can­di­dates are District women such as Moser, who, steeped in the pol­i­tics of the Barack Obama era, are re­turn­ing to their na­tive states to run.

One rea­son some D.C. women leave is be­cause elected po­si­tions in the city are so lim­ited, with no county or state leg­is­la­ture, no rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Se­nate, and a Board of Ed­u­ca­tion that, while elected, has lit­tle power, thanks to a sys­tem that puts pub­lic schools un­der may­oral con­trol.

Some pro­gres­sive can­di­dates want to make an im­pact in the more con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing dis­tricts they grew up in.

Mon­ica Weeks, 29, a small­busi­ness owner and fem­i­nist ac­tivist in the District, said she has long imag­ined she would run for pub­lic of­fice even­tu­ally, but af­ter Trump was elected, she started mov­ing up her timeline. Be­fore she runs, she plans to move back to Florida, closer to fam­ily and the Cuban Amer­i­can com­mu­nity she comes from. “D.C. is home, but it’s still a second home,” she said.

Ha­ley Stevens, 33, for­mer chief of staff for the auto task force at the Trea­sury De­part­ment dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­cently moved home to Michi­gan to run against Repub­li­can Rep. Dave Trott in 2018.

Jes­sica Morse, 35, a na­tional-se­cu­rity strate­gist who worked for the De­fense De­part­ment and State De­part­ment un­der Obama, re­turned to her home district in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia to run against in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Rep. Tom McClin­tock. And Laura Lombard, 33, a fifth-gen­er­a­tion Kansan, re- home af­ter eight years in the District work­ing to help busi­nesses ex­port goods to the Mid­dle East. She ran for the seat va­cated when Rep. Mike Pom­peo was se­lected as Trump’s CIA di­rec­tor. She lost in the spe­cial­elec­tion pri­mary, but she is con­sid­er­ing an­other run in 2018.

She said she is heed­ing a key les­son Democrats learned in Novem­ber. “We can no longer ig­nore the ru­ral Mid­west,” she said.

An­drea Dew Steele, pres­i­dent of Emerge Amer­ica, an­other train­ing pro­gram for fe­male can­di­dates that is see­ing an in­flux of ap­pli­cants, said she cau­tions women against run­ning in places where they have not been liv­ing for very long.

The for­mula for a suc­cess­ful cam­paign, she said, re­lies on “time in the com­mu­nity and deep com­mu­nity roots.”

One caveat, she said, is that the rules may be chang­ing in post-Trump cam­paigns. “We are liv­ing in a new nor­mal,” she said.

“Our coun­try had a moral prob­lem in only let­ting white men . . . have a seat at the ta­ble.” Laura Moser, long­time Wash­ing­ton res­i­dent who moved to Hous­ton to run for Congress there

Get­ting be­yond Wash­ing­ton

Moser is draw­ing upon her fam­ily’s his­tory in Hous­ton and an ex­ten­sive Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion net­work to help her succeed.

Many of the mile­stones in Moser’s adult life have been tied to Obama’s pres­i­dency. The same week­end she and her hus­band, Arun Chaud­hary, mar­ried in the hills of cen­tral Texas in 2007, he ac­cepted a job as a videog­ra­pher for Obama’s cam­paign. And the fol­low­ing sum­mer, on the day Obama ac­cepted the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­dency, Moser learned she was preg­nant.

The cou­ple moved to Wash­ingSo ton the week Obama was in­au­gu­rated, and Chaud­hary be­came the first of­fi­cial White House videog­ra­pher, trav­el­ing the globe with the pres­i­dent and record­ing many of his of­fi­cial and be­hindthe-scenes moves.

Moser worked as a writer and ed­i­tor and was the pri­mary par­ent to their son and, a few years later, their daugh­ter, as her hus­band kept up a re­lent­less sched­ule with long hours and fre­quent travel.

It was an ex­cit­ing time. The fam­ily en­joyed VIP ac­cess to the White House and in­vi­ta­tions to its hol­i­day par­ties. They built up a col­lec­tion of photos of their chil­dren pos­ing with the Oba­mas, in­clud­ing one of their then-2-year-old daugh­ter throw­ing a tantrum at Obama’s feet be­fore an an­nual Passover Seder. The photo was pub­lished on­line and spread quickly across the In­ter­net.

Moser said she be­lieved in the “hopey-changy” world she brought her chil­dren into. So when her un­der­stand­ing of that world was shaken by Trump’s sur­prise vic­tory, her im­pulse to re­sist was al­most im­me­di­ate.

The text mes­sag­ing plat­form she en­vi­sioned was called Daily Ac­tion, and nearly 300,000 peo­ple signed up.

“I be­lieve in fol­low­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said. “You have to fol­low that next step.”

For most of her mar­riage, ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties had been for her hus­band. This time, she saw op­por­tu­nity call­ing her.

Moser spent much of the spring trav­el­ing back and forth from Hous­ton, at­tend­ing po­lit­i­cal events and meet­ing with peo­ple in her home district be­turned fore she com­mit­ted in May and de­clared her can­di­dacy.

She rented a house in her old neigh­bor­hood and en­rolled her son in her for­mer el­e­men­tary school.

Moser said hit­ting the cam­paign trail is like go­ing back to col­lege. All at once, she is meet­ing new peo­ple and learn­ing new things. This time around, she is study­ing the art of pub­lic speak­ing, the dis­ci­pline of fundrais­ing, the nu­ances of trans­porta­tion pol­icy in sprawl­ing Hous­ton, and the com­plex­i­ties of the city’s all-im­por­tant oil and gas in­dus­try.

The de­mands of her new sched­ule re­quired a role re­ver­sal in her mar­riage. Af­ter years of Moser’s be­ing the al­ways avail­able par­ent, her hus­band has, for the first time, started wak­ing up early to pack lunches for kids and get them ready for sum­mer camp. And her par­ents, who lives blocks away, are help­ing ev­ery day.

In early June, she ad­dressed a crowd of friends at a fundrais­ing party in a liv­ing room in Wash­ing­ton, quip­ping that her old neigh­bor­hood friends were prob­a­bly sur­prised to see her wear­ing some­thing other than yoga pants.

In her newly ac­quired, pol­ished cam­paign at­tire, she ex­plained why she was mov­ing back to Texas.

“My grand­fa­ther ar­rived as a Nazi refugee to this district,” she told them.

“I have been try­ing to get my Yan­kee hus­band back there for many years. It took Don­ald Trump be­ing pres­i­dent to make it hap­pen.”

She talked about why it was worth in­vest­ing in her cam­paign and the chance to turn the district blue. Af­ter she spoke, Ben Allen, one of the hosts, sig­naled to the guests to get out their check­books.

“If we can’t vote for you, we can sup­port you in other ways,” he said.

Moser’s East Coast con­nec­tions gave her a boost in the start to her cam­paign. Within the first five days, she raised about $100,000, more money than Cul­ber­son’s pre­vi­ous challenger, lawyer James Car­gas, had amassed dur­ing his en­tire 2016 cam­paign.

But the pri­mary is shap­ing up to be com­pet­i­tive, with seven Democrats so far con­tend­ing for the nom­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing two other women.

Moser be­lieves a woman has an ad­van­tage in the race. Women con­sti­tuted many of the swing vot­ers who crossed po­lit­i­cal lines to vote for Clin­ton, she said. And if the re­sis­tance to Trump has a face, Moser says, it’s clearly fe­male.

When she founded Daily Ac­tion, she did not tar­get women. But through a mem­ber­ship poll, she learned that 86 per­cent of the sub­scribers were fe­male. It’s not sur­pris­ing, she re­al­ized, that women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately com­mit­ting to the kind of be­hind-the-scenes grunt work that pow­ers a re­sis­tance.

“Call­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives ev­ery sin­gle day, ar­rang­ing lo­cal com­mu­nity meet­ings and marching in the streets ev­ery Sun­day,” she said. “It’s not the path to glory, but it’s ab­so­lutely essen­tial to main­tain­ing a democ­racy un­der threat.”

TOP LEFT: Af­ter liv­ing for years on Capi­tol Hill, Demo­crat Laura Moser up­rooted her­self to move to her na­tive Hous­ton, where she is run­ning for Congress. TOP RIGHT: Moser meets with district res­i­dents in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics. ABOVE: Moser greets Sig­mund Jucker, the owner of a lo­cal bak­ery she fre­quented as a child.

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL STRAVATO FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MICHAEL STRAVATO FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Demo­crat Laura Moser cam­paigns from her Hous­ton home in May. Although she has em­braced her Texas con­nec­tion, Moser is re­ly­ing on the net­work she built dur­ing her time in Wash­ing­ton for sup­port in her bid to un­seat Repub­li­can Rep. John Ab­ney Cul­ber­son.

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