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New PAC wants more people under 35 in Congress, legislatures

Leaders We Deserve looking at open seats in Florida, Georgia, and Texas

David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on June 11, 2022.
David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on June 11, 2022. (Leigh Vogel/Getty Images/March For Our Lives)

A new hybrid PAC will recruit and support young candidates for state legislative and congressional races, aiming to recruit more people under 35 to serve in elected office.

Led by David Hogg, 23, a co-founder of the gun control group March For Our Lives, and Kevin Lata, 32, who managed Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost’s campaign in 2022, when Frost was elected the first Gen Z member of Congress, Leaders We Deserve will aim to elect people under 35 to Congress and under 30 to state legislatures. 

“We will be the EMILY’s List for young people,” Lata said in a joint interview with Hogg last week, referring to the group that funds women candidates who support abortion rights. “When you’re running for office for the first time, I mean it is so hard. It’s like a foreign world. When you’re a young person, the difficult part is you don’t have the political connections a lot of the time. You don’t have the fundraising and donor connections.”

After connecting on Frost’s campaign, Hogg and Lata began planning for the new organization in January. They are looking to target open seats in blue districts in states where Democrats hope they can make gains, such as Florida, Georgia and Texas. The PAC will primarily support candidates for state legislatures but also plans to back candidates in a couple of congressional races.

Hogg said he hopes that by recruiting young people to run for state office and supporting their campaigns, the group can show that people from his generation can grow their influence and address issues that are important to young progressives. 

“What we’re trying to do here is focus on … building out that bench now so that in 10, 15 years, these states are trending in the right direction,” he said.

If more young lawmakers are elected, the issues that younger people care about are more likely to be addressed, he said. Hogg has been a gun control activist since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where he was a student. But he said the group will focus on a broader array of issues. 

“They can be on the forefront of creating that change, showing young people that there are people that understand the anxiety of knowing what it’s like to go through a school shooter drill in office,” Hogg said. “Previous generations had nuclear bomb drills, and that generation went on to pass some of the most comprehensive arms reduction treaties in human history. I think for our generation, we share a similar type of trauma with school shooter drills, and I think bringing them into office will help bring change.”

The group is still talking with potential candidates for this cycle, and Hogg and Lata declined to name any specific races where they are looking. They plan to focus on 15 to 30 candidates at the state legislative level and one or two running for Congress. 

Along with fundraising support, the group will help connect candidates with opportunities for earned media, such as having Hogg go to their districts for rallies or roundtables. Hogg was also able to raise $380,000 early in Frost’s campaign and $800,000 for former Rep. Val B. Demings’ unsuccessful Senate campaign in Florida last cycle.

House members range in age from Frost, who is 26, to 86-year-old California Democratic Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, who recently announced her retirement. The average age is 57. The Senate ranges from 36-year-old Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., to 90-year-old Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., with an average age of 64. 

Hogg said by focusing on open seats, the group isn’t trying to oust older incumbents but rather wants to make sure there are people in office from a range of generations. Just 32 members of both chambers are under 40 right now. 

Hogg said the PAC is looking to build on efforts from other groups focused on electing young leaders, like Run For Something, which supports candidates in down-ballot races.

The group has an advisory board that includes Frost and fellow Reps. Jamie Raskin, Lauren Underwood, Eric Swalwell, Rob Menendez and Jan Schakowsky as well as Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy. Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride, who is running for the House, is also a member of the advisory board, as well as Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, who was expelled from and reappointed to the state House earlier this year after a gun control protest on the floor. 

Lata said that after three cycles of the youngest voters being a crucial part of Democrats’ turnout plans, it’s time for them to also be on the ballot themselves. He pointed to Frost, Jones and another Tennessee legislator, Justin Pearson, as examples of what the group wants to promote. 

“It’s not just young people voting, but it’s the young leaders themselves that are important to advancing the progressive vision for the future that Democrats want,” he said.

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