Why you should care
Because Amanda Litman is guiding a flood of new Democratic candidates.
Inspired by a friend’s environmentalist mom and The West Wing, Amanda Litman caught the politics bug in high school. She started attending pro-choice rallies in northern Virginia, plastered candidate bumper stickers on her bedroom door and skipped class to catch a glimpse of the 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls. For college, she picked Northwestern so she could work on President Barack Obama’s re-election in Chicago.
“I was insufferable when I was 17 — still am,” she says, between bites of a breakfast sandwich at a hipster-packed Brooklyn coffee shop. Now, conference call by conference call, with her rescue dog barking in the background, Litman is trying to rebuild the party to which the 28-year-old has devoted much of her life.
After working on Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Litman was pulled by the post-2016 crash from fighting for the White House to politicking at its most basic level. The co-founder of Run for Something, Litman is giving liberal millennials the tools to run for local and state office in an effort to build a stronger bench for a party hollowed out by losses during the Obama years. But Litman can sometimes be too democratic for the Democrats — pushing candidates who are challenging party-backed incumbents, or running nearly hopeless races. “Money in politics keeps going up, and regardless of whether we think that’s a good thing, it’s a sign that there’s not finite resources,” Litman says. “To say we’re wasting money is to say doing voter contact is a waste, which I don’t think is true.”
I don’t want to sugarcoat this: Running for office is really fucking hard.
Bully Pulpit Interactive founder Andrew Bleeker, who worked alongside Litman during the Obama and Clinton campaigns and now consults for leading Democratic groups, sees Run for Something as part of a larger debate. “If one end of the spectrum is national parties taking people in back rooms like 100 years ago — but also winning because they allocate resources really effectively — and the other end is sort of anarchy, like a lot of great people running but losing, there are different people who have to play different roles in that process,” he says.
Bleeker first met Litman as a Washington Nationals baseball-obsessed young staffer on the email fundraising team for Obama’s re-election. Unlike so much of campaigning, in which the score is not tallied until Election Day, online fundraising success and failure is measured by the hour — and Litman loved the rush. Bleeker, who led Obama’s digital marketing, says Litman’s storytelling ability to engage potential donors and work ethic helped her rise.
Litman went from Obama’s 2012 triumph to a 2014 defeat with Florida gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist to the Clinton campaign, where she led a team of 19. On election night, Litman and her cohorts were convinced the race was theirs; she ran the betting pool on the size of Clinton’s electoral vote victory. On the late-night ride home after Donald Trump had won, Litman asked her cabdriver to pull over so she could throw up.
On a much-needed vacation in Costa Rica, Litman says her mind kept returning to friends who were asking her how they could run for office. Perhaps she could start an organization to help people like them while awaiting her next campaign. When she learned that a friend’s husband, Ross Morales Rocketto, was thinking the same thing, she and Rocketto launched Run for Something — on Inauguration Day — figuring they’d get 100 bites in the first year. One week in, 1,000 would-be candidates had reached out.
In October, Litman published Run for Something, with a foreword by Hillary Clinton, who has helped the group with fundraising. It’s an accessible guide “to fixing the system,” written in Litman’s sharp voice. “I don’t want to sugarcoat this,” she writes. “Running for office is really fucking hard.”
Just as Indivisible created a how-to manual for progressive activism, Run for Something is offering the same for first-time candidates. Among the 16,000 who have contacted the organization, nearly 4,000 cleared the interview process — to determine if they’re progressive, rooted in the community and committed enough to run a credible campaign — and won access to the group’s guides on everything from filing to run, to building a fundraising plan, to advertising. The candidates can also communicate with one another and outside volunteer experts.
The recruits are young, running for local and state office, and mostly women and minorities who have a harder time accessing traditional political channels. Litman says the group will endorse about 1,000 of those candidates this year, giving a seal of approval to its top tier. Among them is Hazel Gibson, a mother of two running for state Senate in a crowded Democratic primary in Colorado. Gibson appreciates quizzing the Run for Something network because “you’re not getting a biased answer,” unlike hiring political consultants looking for an extra buck. Luis Toledo, who is trying to break into a North Carolina Legislature without a single Hispanic member, says Run for Something went the extra mile to put out a press release for him in both English and Spanish. He’d love it more if the group could “pitch in some money.”
Litman says a fundraising push for key races is on the way, but the group is also spending its money in other ways. Its full-page Florida newspaper ad after the Parkland high school shooting blared “The NRA is killing our kids,” and urged people to run against 24 GOP state legislators who went unopposed in 2016. Justin Sayfie, a Republican lobbyist who publishes a popular Florida political news site, is skeptical: “There’s probably a reason that these folks are unopposed: They are hard to beat.” Litman wouldn’t have it any other way.