Politics

These Democrats Already Lost. Here’s What They Learned

We caught up with 3 also-ran candidates from high-profile House races

Laura Moser lost her primary in Texas’ 7th District after the DCCC came out against her. (Arun Chaudhary/Courtesy Moser for Congress)

The campaign signs are in the trash and the ads have gone dark. The midterm elections may not be over yet, but these defeated Democrats have had plenty of time to think about what went wrong.

A surge of Democratic energy earlier this year led to crowded primaries around the country, and that meant more losers than usual. Now first-time candidates like Laura Moser, Sam Jammal and Pat Ryan — a deep-blue activist, a son of immigrants and a moderate veteran, respectively — are looking at their dashed campaigns in the rearview mirror.

At least one is writing a book. Another is fighting for clean energy. All of them say they’ve been working to boost their fellow Democrats in the final push before Election Day.

That last thing is true even for Moser, who lost a rocky primary in the suburbs of Houston. “One thing I learned about myself is I’m tougher than I thought I was, and you have to be,” she said.

Like many newcomers this cycle, she saw “an urgent need to change the direction the country was going in.” She ran on a $15 minimum wage and “Medicare for All.”

Those lofty ideas came tumbling down at the hands of party leaders, who saw her as flawed and unelectable. “I ran out of idealism to make this country a better place,” Moser said.

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These days the activist and journalist is working on a fictional project. “It’s a novel about politics. That’s the most details I can give,” she said.

And she’s raising money for candidates in “under-the-radar” Texas districts that “Democrats unfortunately are ignoring” — a jab at the same party strategists who turned on her.

Moser survived one primary round after the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to hit her with an opposition research dump, resurfacing an old comment of hers that living in her grandparents’ Texas hometown — which is not in the district she was running for — would be worse than having her “teeth pulled out without anesthesia.” But in May, she lost a runoff to Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who struck a centrist tone.

The move by the DCCC surprised many. To some, it looked like the growing pains of a party struggling to find a direction in the age of Trump.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that “politics is really nasty, but it matters,” Moser said.

UNITED STATES - MAY 19: Democrats running for the California 39th Congressional district, from left, Mai-Khanh Tran, Sam Jammal and Andy Thorburn, speak to voters during a rally held by Swing Left at Carolyn Rosa Park in Rowland Heights, Calif., on Saturday, May 19, 2018. California is holding its primary election on June 5, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sam Jammal, center, ran in a money-soaked primary in Southern California. He didn’t make to the general election. Neither did Mai-Khanh Tran or Andy Thorburn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In Southern California, another former candidate is focused on weddings and electric buses.

“I was blessed to get engaged this year, and so first and foremost, I am planning the wedding,” said Jammal, who finished seventh in a jam-packed, money-soaked open primary in Orange County.

A onetime Capitol Hill staffer and regulatory counsel for Tesla, he’s now back to work for the electric vehicle industry, this time for BYD.

He’d also like to repair the damage to his wallet. “As a young candidate, it’s never easy to take the step financially for running for office,” the 36-year-old said.

But as Jammal sees it, that’s all the more reason for young people to try. “As someone who comes from a working-class background and has student loans, I do think it was important that I stepped in,” he said.

Jammal, whose parents are immigrants from Jordan and Colombia, called on Democrats from “diverse economic backgrounds” to throw their hats in the ring next election cycle.

“Make sure you have that fire in your belly,” he said, especially if you plan to run in districts like his own, which is currently held by a Republican but could go either way on Election Day.

“Especially in some of these swing districts, you are in essence helping build up the party apparatus where it’s not necessarily as strong,” he said of the work that primary candidates do — even losing ones.

“You gotta get out there and you raise the issues,” he said. “Otherwise, you can’t expect others to raise them for you.”

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Pat Ryan was defeated in the Democratic primary by opponent Antonio Delgado.  (Bryce Vickmark/ Courtesy  of Pat Ryan) 

As for Ryan, he was the runner-up in his Democratic primary for a seat anchored in New York’s Hudson Valley. It was a high point in his life.

“I haven’t felt the same sense of purpose and mission that I felt from the campaign since I was serving in combat,” said Ryan, who completed two tours of duty in Iraq.

Now he’s thrown his weight behind his former opponent, Antonio Delgado, a Rhodes scholar and former rapper who’s drawn national attention. “We all have to do our part, and if my part isn’t being the candidate, then it’s supporting other great candidates and causes,” Ryan said.

If Democrats can flip the seat, they’ll send vulnerable incumbent Rep. John J. Faso packing. The odds look to be in their favor; Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic.

Ryan thinks a lot about what he calls “my generation — the post-9/11 veterans.”

His advocacy work on gun control has kept him busy since the primary, along with a new position on the board of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. And he’s stayed in touch with some of the like-minded candidates he met.

“I was part of a group of Democratic veterans running in a lot of tough races around the country … about 30 of us,” he said. Some of them won their primaries. Others didn’t. Either way, Ryan sees the influx of Democratic candidates this year, including his own network of veterans, as a strong “bench of talent going forward that’s going to put us in a good position for the next 10, 20, 30 years.”

So, will these defeated Democrats run again?

Never, said Moser.

Jammal won’t rule it out, but for the moment he wants to focus on his family and his bank account. “Maybe down the road if it’s the right opportunity,” he said.

Ryan sounded more enthusiastic. “I definitely want to continue public service, whether that’s running for office or maybe an appointed office,” he said. “It was a really good rewarding feeling. … That’s the feeling I want to have when I wake up every day.”

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