Why We Run: Alejandra Campoverdi

Alejandra Campoverdi is a first-time candidate running in the special election for the House in California’s 34th district. After graduating from USC and Harvard, she moved to Chicago to work for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Campoverdi was appointed in the White House as Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, and later promoted as the first ever Deputy Director of Hispanic Media. She’s gotten attention in this campaign with a television ad in which she opens up about her family’s and her own struggle with breast cancer. She talks below about making the political personal, and running an authentic campaign.

Earlier in your career, you worked on the Obama campaign and then in the White House. Was there a particular event or issue that made you want to run yourself, or was that always a plan?

Even getting involved with the Obama campaign wasn’t driven by a desire to get involved with politics. I was graduating from the Kennedy School in 2008 with my Masters in Public Policy and I was really inspired by President — then Senator — Obama’s campaign and his vision for the country so I moved to Chicago and took an unpaid job and lived off of credit cards to work on his campaign, never really thinking that I would end up at the White House. The four years I had at the White House were such a privilege and working for President Obama was incredible but I never thought I would necessarily run for office myself either.

This is something I say to a lot of young women when I talk to them about politics — or their careers period — the most important thing is to figure out what your passion is and your driving force and make decisions always leaning back into that and then your career appears cohesive and it seems to build upon itself but that’s less by design and more because you’re constantly choosing what it is that is the most important to you.

The fact that I ended up running for office now, the catalyst was President Trump being elected and a lot of people and a lot of young women feeling basically nauseous for about three days afterwards and wanting to do my part in a substantive way. So when this seat opened up and I knew health care was on the line — which is something that I worked on when I was at the White House and that has affected my family generationally — I knew that this was one of those moments where you have to put your money where your mouth is.

I, like a lot of young women that I’m sure come through the doors of your organization, because I didn’t intend to run for office — definitely not now and not necessarily ever — I started from scratch. I had to build this plane while we were flying it. There was no infrastructure or premeditation so I did all this in real time.

What made you feel ready — or did you?

I’m the child of an immigrant from Mexico, a single mom, and in my career and life, I’ve never had the benefit of having safety nets. I’ve kind of had to jump whenever there was an opportunity, whenever there was something that really meant a lot to me, whether it was going to Harvard and taking on full student loans or going to the Obama campaign and living off my credit cards. I don’t know if one ever feels ready to do anything 100 percent, but the most important thing is to have faith in your capacity to rise to the occasion and to not let those opportunities pass you by. Because those moments are usually singular moments in time that if you hesitate you can miss the opportunity.

How has your experience as a candidate surprised you? How has it differed from your experience working on other campaigns, or in public service?

Being the candidate is an experience of living and working at a very high frequency that I experienced a degree of when I was at the White House but being the candidate is a whole other experience. I felt much more inspired and connected to the core essence of what drives my life more than ever. When you run for office and you’re constantly explaining to people who you are, where you’ve been, what made you who you are, and what’s important you, you really have to drill down on those things for yourself if you’re going to be authentic about it, which is how people will connect with you. And so there’s a lot of introspection in this process that has been a really beautiful part of it as an individual to really drill down to the core essence of who you are and what drives you.

What was the best advice about campaigning that you got, on this or other campaigns?

The best advice that I got was if you run like you’re not afraid to lose, you’ll run your best campaign. I think those are words to live by when it comes to being a candidate, especially a young candidate, a millennial candidate, a female candidate, a person of color running for office, a lot of times you’re going up against Establishment candidates and folks that have more of an established infrastructure. If you doubt yourself and you’re looking over your shoulder or you’re looking down while you’re walking that tightrope, that’s when you can get yourself into trouble.

Also if you’re listening too much to everyone else’s opinions, whether it’s consultants or other folks in the political process, you can lose the essence of who you are. As a first time candidate, one of the most important things is what you bring to the table that’s unique. That can be scrubbed out if you get too self-conscious about not doing things the way that they’ve typically been done so I think that’s a really important piece of it. To run like you’re not afraid to lose, because that’s where you’ll be able to connect more with the core of who you are, regardless of if it’s been done before. Why would you want to run a campaign that’s been done before anyway?

In my campaign, I obviously got very personal with my television ad and the op-ed that I wrote for Cosmopolitan about being a multi-dimensional woman and supporting women who have nonlinear backgrounds, is a perfect example of that. I don’t if folks would’ve recommended that I approach either of these things based on tried-and-true political strategy, but for me none of this was political strategy it was owning these issues from a unique perspective that I, other women in my district, and other women in the country may have, and I feel that that’s been able to resonate with people because it was real, not because it was something that you’re supposed to do as a political candidate.

That was actually something I wanted to ask about. One of the first headlines that comes up when googling your name is “Alejandra Campoverdi makes health care debate personal in first TV ad”. How have you found the reactions to that openness? Why was it important for you to share?

I’ve gotten a very positive reaction in general, but what’s been really inspiring for me are the women with breast cancer or who have tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation — and also men, because men can test positive for the mutation as well — who have come forward and been grateful that I helped to humanize an issue that a lot of times is talked about very theoretically in Washington and policy debates.

For me it was important to bring the conversation back to people, what this is about, and sometimes being vulnerable about how much skin we have in the game ourselves is the way to do that. This is something that I had not shared with more than a handful of people in my life. A lot of people very close to me were surprised to hear this news. It even took me about six months after finding out to tell my mother because I knew it was a very personal decision that every woman should feel empowered to make for herself. There’s no right or wrong answer in dealing with this issue and finding out this information. I knew Obamacare and protecting the Affordable Care Act was one of the reasons why I wanted to run for office personally and to my point about wanting to keep things as authentically real as possible in my campaign, when it came time to talk about what’s at stake that felt to me like the right thing to do, despite any vulnerability of publicly sharing my own personal health battle that might come with it.

To be honest, I’ve heard a lot from not only folks in the district about how powerful they found the ad, but also from folks around the country because there’s a lot of people hurting right now and the battle to keep access to affordable healthcare is something that is a concern to folks no matter where they live, where they come from. But it’s particularly important to folks in my district where the median household income is $38,000. I think right now people are looking for candidates to step forward who are willing to keep it real, regardless of any impact it may have on them. Right now we’re looking for people who will fight for issues, people who have skin in the game, people who are willing to put themselves out there, regardless of how that might affect even their candidacy at the end of the day.

What do you wish you’d known before you ran?

The logistics of it is definitely useful information. That you catch up to pretty quickly. There’s a lot of t’s to cross and i’s to dot when you’re setting up a campaign. My experience is very unique because it’s a special election that has happened very quickly. I didn’t announce I was running until December, the date of the election was called in January and the primary is in April. Unless someone anticipated running for office and had already built their Nationbuilder account or had developed a donor base, this is something you’re doing very much in real time.

At the same time I feel really proud of what we’ve done. Of having put it together in a way that I knew that I wanted to feel at the end of this process that I was proud of the campaign itself. That the campaign wasn’t a means to an end of getting elected, but the campaign itself moved the needle. That I felt proud of having taken a stand on issues. Not saying “send me to Washington so that I can fight for you” but starting to fight for my community in my campaign.

And so the most important thing for me to get across is that it’s so important to trust your instincts and to not play it safe and to start fighting for your community from day one in your campaign. The more you have the kind of nuts and bolts of the infrastructure figured out, the more you can focus on that.

Figuring that out as soon as possible and having a team around you that can take that off your plate frees you up to be able to do the most important work which is engage with your constituents, take a stand and be very active on the issues that are the driving force behind your campaign.

What is keeping you motivated on the campaign?

What’s keeping me going day-to-day is connecting with constituents in the district. I recently was sitting down with this older woman in Ramona Gardens in my district and we were talking about her grandchildren and how worried she was about them being able to succeed and have access to a good education, and she started crying. When you have those experiences and it becomes very real and very visceral what you’re fighting for, then all the late nights, all the stressful days, they’re absolutely worth it. That’s why it’s important that as a candidate — you know, a lot of times folks want to lock you in a room to do fundraising, and fundraising is very important as far as proving your viability especially as a young female candidate and someone running for office for the first time, but don’t let the connection to the actual issues and the people suffering because of having to spend your time also taking care of the nuts and bolts.

The experience of shooting the ad and talking about this generational health battle with my family has also really kept me strong and kept me going because my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer around the time that I decided to run and visiting with her through this process and seeing her actually deal with our healthcare system while we’re talking about it on the national level has also been very grounding. I think it’s important to find these grounding opportunities where you’re reminded why it is you’re in the game because that is the essence of running for office, truly — or should be, at least.

I teach a weekly writing class at Central Juvenile Hall with incarcerated young women. When I first declared that I was seeking this office, I was nervous about whether or not I should keep teaching because it’s a commitment every Wednesday evening and I knew that I couldn’t really control my schedule very much for the next few months. But I ultimately decided that that’s the reason why I’m doing this, so I would figure it out and block out that time however I could. Seeing them every week, and they know what I’ve been doing and we’ve been talking about it in our class. When I write my personal statements, they’ll do a writing assignment where they write theirs. That has been an experience that has served as a grounding point for me on a weekly basis.

In fact, two weeks ago I found myself in one of those situations where there was a forum that was at the same time as my writing class. We were a couple weeks out from election day, and I’m faced with one of these dilemmas. What I decided to do was I went and taught my writing class and showed up late to the forum. And when I got to the forum, I told everyone, “I apologize for being late,” but I announced them the reason why was very important, that I had been with a group of girls who many times have dealt with individuals who make them feel that they’re not as important or they’re not worth their time and I didn’t want to do that to them, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m a good candidate. Because you’re going to have to negotiate those choices in real time throughout your political career, but it’s always important to lean back into the reason why you’re doing that. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, because that’s what going to keep you going on those long days: your connection to the community.



A series of brief Q&As with young people who decided to run for government. Surprise! It turns out, they’re just like you and me.

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