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Laura Moser didn’t want to be a “folk hero of the left.” Then the DCCC came after her.

Moser’s next test is a May runoff election.

Democratic candidate Laura Moser campaigns in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Laura Moser never planned to be a “folk hero of the left.”

Moser, the founder of the progressive group Daily Action and a Democratic candidate running in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District, doesn’t see herself as particularly leftist — she insists the progressive policies she’s running on have broad support from the American public, and it’s often noted she was a Hillary Clinton supporter in the 2016 primary.

But since the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made the explosive move of dropping an opposition research memo on Moser before her first primary race back in March, she’s become perhaps the most high-profile anti-establishment candidate running this year.

“It made this a national race in a way that I would not have chosen,” she told me in a recent interview. “I’m running a local congressional race on local issues, and I didn’t mean to be this kind of folk hero of the left. That’s definitely not what they wanted to do, but that was the result, I think.”

DCCC operatives were clear about why they released the memo — which took aim at Moser’s years spent living in Washington, DC, and a past article she had written that included disparaging comments about not wanting to move back to the small town of Paris, Texas, where her grandparents lived. The DCCC’s argument was that Moser’s article would disqualify her in a general election race against Republican incumbent Rep. John Culberson. Republicans would tear her to shreds, they argued.

“When there’s a truly disqualified general election candidate that would eliminate our ability to flip a district blue, that’s a time when it becomes necessary to get involved in these primaries,” DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly told Vox in March. “This district is too important to let it go without trying.”

The move appears to have backfired — Moser had a heightened national profile and boosted fundraising ability after the memo dropped. She made it into the runoff with the support of organizations such as Our Revolution, the progressive group formed after Bernie Sanders’s presidential run in 2016.

“I dispute the theory that that’s why I made the runoff, because I had seen the same polling information that the DCCC had seen, which put me in a good position to make the runoff without them,” she said.

Now Moser is facing her final test of the Democratic primary: a May runoff against longtime Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Fletcher has not yet received the DCCC’s endorsement; there was an email snafu that went out last week putting her name on the organization’s Red to Blue list, corrected minutes later.

The Seventh Congressional District is a key one for Democrats if they want to make good on starting to turn Texas purple in 2018, a midterm year shaping up to be a potential wave. Though the Texas Seventh has been held by the GOP since the 1960s, it was one of three districts whose residents voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (the other two are the 23rd District and the 32nd District).

Both Moser and her opponent, Fletcher, say they don’t think the DCCC memo has had much of an impact on Houston voters, who prefer to talk pressing local issues like flooding infrastructure, nine months out from Hurricane Harvey. But it’s become a flashpoint for a larger debate about how involved the Democratic Party should get in its own primaries, especially during a year with record numbers of candidates signing up to run.

“I think voters don’t like being told by Washington who to vote for, and it’s not as if the DCCC has this stellar record of winning races up and down the nation,” Moser told me. “I think they should let locals run their races.”

I talked to Moser about why she decided to run, the infamous memo, and what it will take for Democrats to win in Texas. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Ella Nilsen

Why did you decide to run this year?

Laura Moser

Well, I don’t think I would have run in any other year. I think like many women and moms all over the country, I was deeply traumatized by the election of Donald Trump and decided that I wasn’t doing enough, none of us were doing enough, to fight for this frail thing called democracy.

Ella Nilsen

How do you think the DCCC memo impacted your campaign before the first election? Do you think that boosted you in any way or gave you more name recognition? Or do you think it didn’t have an impact?

Laura Moser

I mean, it certainly had impact. It definitely helped us raise money. And you know, I was against a lot of people with a lot more money, a lot of outside money. So it certainly was helpful to get us up on TV the last couple weeks. We raised, I think, $130,000 in a couple days, which for our grassroots campaign was a lot.

I dispute the theory that that’s why I made the runoff, because I had seen the same polling information that the DCCC had seen, which put me in a good position to make the runoff without them.

But yeah, it made this a national race in a way that I would not have chosen. I’m running a local congressional race on local issues, and I didn’t mean to be this kind of folk hero of the left. That’s definitely not what they wanted to do, but that was the result, I think.

Ella Nilsen

Can you think back to what your reaction was when the memo was first released?

Laura Moser

Yeah, I was at an event with about 50 people in an apartment building. I was about to speak and someone who worked with me pulled me out of the room and said, “The DCCC just did this,” and I looked down and saw the top line.

And I was completely flabbergasted, because it’s kind of like finding out some member of your own family has betrayed you. And then I had to go give a speech, and I was totally stunned and horrified. I always say my one lesson from that is if you work for anyone who’s about to give a speech, save the big surprise for after they’ve spoken. Because I don’t remember how I got through that speech.

Ella Nilsen

Obviously, your race has been the most high-profile case of this, but there have been other Democrats in other primaries saying the DCCC is getting too involved in primaries. What do you think that says about the Democratic Party right now, and institutions like the DCCC?

Laura Moser

I mean, I think it’s really sad and disappointing. I think voters don’t like being told by Washington who to vote for, and it’s not as if the DCCC has this stellar record of winning races up and down the nation.

I think they should let locals run their races and stay out of races in Texas and California and in upstate New York. I think party insiders don’t always know the local races, and it’s certainly true in Texas, where they have not had a presence at all since I was a kid.

Ella Nilsen

Do you get a sense of how Texas voters feel about the DCCC memo?

Laura Moser

It’s certainly not, when you knock on people’s doors, what they want to talk about. They haven’t heard about it, for the most part, and we certainly have a lot of our own problems, local to Houston. But I think the ones who do know about it are a little stupefied, the way I was.

Ella Nilsen

So what are some of the things you’re hearing from voters, in terms of the issues they’re thinking about in 2018?

Laura Moser

Certainly flooding, and the need to invest in infrastructure to safeguard our city for the storms that will come. This district has been hit really hard by flooding three years in a row; people want answers. I think if John Culberson is beaten, that will be a major reason. Even very dedicated Republican voters may stay home because he’s not delivering the goods on that front, though he is producing FEMA checks right now.

I’ve campaigned very actively and aggressively on gun reform from the beginning of my campaign. Even though people said, “Oh, it’s Texas, you can’t do that” — since [the school shooting in Parkland, Florida], that’s all people want to talk about. That’s definitely, I think, an issue that’s going to sway some traditionally Republican mom voters. Like the sort of Clintonian soccer moms in the ’90s, I think we’re going to have [anti-]gun violence voters all over suburban America, but starting right here.

Ella Nilsen

I’m curious if you had gotten any advice not to talk about that issue before, because it is Texas. How have you navigated the political reality of the state with your message on gun control?

Laura Moser

I guess the thing that makes my candidacy different that might be threatening to groups like the DCCC is that I don’t campaign on what the consultants or the focus groups tell me to campaign on. I feel like as a mom who has written about gun violence and school shootings, that was an important issue to talk about. Not everyone agrees on every issue, but people appreciate that I’m willing to be authentic and honest about what my values are.

Ella Nilsen

So would you say you’re trying to campaign on progressive issues? It sounds like you haven’t felt the need to moderate your stances. What sort of issues balance are you trying to put out there?

Laura Moser

So I think Texas ... are you from — you’re not from Texas?

Ella Nilsen

No, I am from New Hampshire. Definitely not from the South.

Laura Moser

So I’ll just say, my hero growing up was [former Texas Gov.] Ann Richards. I went to her inauguration when I was in eighth grade and sat in a tree and watched her being sworn in. There’s this great history in Texas of straight-talking, witty women who tell it like it is, and I think that is the style of candidate that does well here.

I think the issues I am campaigning on are not radical issues, and if you actually go through the numbers, most people agree in Texas, in America, about what is called “progressive issues.” Most people think climate change is scary [and] we should talk about it. Most people think Social Security is good [and] we should protect it. Most people think the federal government should play a role in ensuring people have access to health care and don’t die of cancer in the emergency room.

Ella Nilsen

It sounds like what you’re saying is it’s sort of a test to see if you can run a campaign without moderating your stances on progressive, Democratic issues and still win in Texas.

Laura Moser

Yes, and I’m also saying that progressive issues are not far-left issues. They represent the majority of Americans’ beliefs and values. But we just don’t run on them because we’re afraid to offend people. But you know, it’s not crazy to say that the bridge you drive home from work on shouldn’t collapse or that we have to invest in our country if we want good results; we have to invest in education.

Ella Nilsen

The last thing I wanted to ask is if you think the “blue wave hitting Texas” hype is real, and if you think that 2018 could be the year we start to see Texas go purple.

Laura Moser

Yeah, I mean, everyone who lives in Texas has heard this for so many election cycles that it’s hard to be too enthusiastic. But I think that [Democratic Senate candidate Beto] O’Rourke is a great gift to every Democrat in Texas; he’s an incredible talent, completely charismatic, campaigning on the real issues, and going up and down the state to actually try to speak to people who have been left behind. Small towns that are lost causes for Democrats — he’s actually not writing anyone off.

But I think it really depends on who we nominate. Do we have candidates that are exciting to people, do we have candidates who can motivate new voters? Then yeah, I think it could happen. Non-presidential years are very challenging for Democrats in Texas, historically.

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