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Culture / Newsy

Houston Writer and Mom Decides to Run For Office and Gets Attacked By Her Own Democratic Party

Inside Laura Moser’s Candidacy and the Unexpected War That’s Erupted Around It

BY // 03.05.18
photography Jay Tovar. Art direction Michelle Aviña. Hair and makeup Jackie Tzang.

In any other year, hers might be an improbable candidacy. Now The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times-published writer finds herself in the middle of one of the most fiercely contested Congressional races in the country. Laura Moser is one of seven Democrats running for the Texas 7th (primary voting day is this Tuesday, March 6), vying to be on the ballot against Republican incumbent John Culberson this November.

Days before the election, Moser was also improbably targeted by her own party, in a rare move that smacked of back-room dealing, and brought to mind the Democratic machine’s squelching of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Presidential election. This drama brought Moser even more national attention — and made her candidacy into something of a national touchpoint.

Moser grew up in Houston’s Southside Place; attended West University Elementary, St. John’s School and Amherst College, then carved out a writing career.

Hers is a literary family — mom Jane Moser presided over Brazos Bookstore for years and her brother, Benjamin Moser, has written a critically acclaimed biography of Brazilian novelist/fashion journalist Clarice Lispector. (Moser’s dad, Bertrand Moser, is an attorney.)

Before jumping into the political arena, Moser was an outsider with an insider’s view of D.C., with unique access during a historic time in Washington.

Her husband, filmmaker and digital political strategist Arun Chaudhary, served as videographer for President Obama; consequently, Moser was a regular at the White House. Her daughter Claudia, when a toddler, famously pitched a temper tantrum in front of the President and First Lady during a Passover Seder that she and her husband annually attended in the intimate Old Family Dining Room. The tantrum was captured on many an Internet page.

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As Moser escalates from D.C. spouse to making a run for office, her writing career, national byline, and intercultural marriage to a like-minded activist have brought national media attention for her congressional race, including a Vogue profile and a Time magazine cover with a grid of powerful female candidates. Just how far will she go?

In an exclusive interview for PaperCity, conducted via email Moser shared details from the Congressional campaign trail:

Your decision to run for office.
After Donald Trump’s election, I started Daily Action, a text-message service that brought 300,000 Americans into the political process.

Once it took off, people started saying that I should run for office myself. The idea seemed crazy. But then, last Valentine’s Day, I walked into the Planned Parenthood luncheon, which my best friend and her mother were co-chairing, and I was overwhelmed by how many women were there — and by how many of them I knew!

For decades now, Texas women have been at the forefront of the fight against laws that erode our basic freedoms, and there I was, surrounded by hundreds of them. I felt as if it were long past time that these women had a champion. Shortly after that, I saw Hillary Clinton speak at Annie’s List, and her speech sealed the deal for me.

Was the fact that you had never run for elected office a hindrance or a plus?
I wouldn’t have minded more expertise in understanding the hiring and staffing process, but in general, I think the fact that I had never for an instant ever considered running for office was a gigantic plus. I truly believe that the people who are going to win up and down the ballot next year are women and mothers like me who have felt called to action by the current situation in Washington. Not cookie-cutter candidates who have had their political careers mapped out since fourth grade.

Of the seven Democratic candidates running for the Texas 7th, why do you think your campaign has attracted national interest?
I am proud of the national attention my candidacy has raised — we will need money and support from all over the country if we want to fl ip this seat. I think the attention is because my background is so unusual and because, as a writer, I know how to communicate my ideas in direct, emotional ways. Twitter has been a huge boon to my candidacy, both in terms of raising money and in attracting an army of in-district volunteers.

Mostly, though, I think my candidacy typifies the women all over the country who have dropped everything and left their regular lives behind to fight for a better country for our children. My hope is that once elected, I can use the national platform I’ve developed to draw as much attention as possible to the problem  that need solving in Houston. Our city needs a champion with national reach, someone who will stand on a table with a bullhorn and say, “We need funding to fix our infrastructure” or “healthcare.”

Most challenging moment.
When my daughter asked me why I had missed her winter carnival. I had been on a plane to New York for a 24-hour fundraising trip, and I thought she wouldn’t even notice my absence. But then a few days later she said, “All the mommies were there except you.” In that moment, if I could have turned back time and canceled that New York event, I would have.

Uplifting anecdote from the campaign trail.
The campaign trail can be exhausting, but every single day, when I knock on people’s doors, I have at least one uplifting moment. Maybe it was when I met a 101-year-old woman who said she hoped she lived long enough to see a woman replace the incumbent. That was a good conversation.

What you’ve learned about your future possible constituents.
It’s almost a cliché to say that Houston is the most diverse city in the country, but when I actually go door to door, you see the truth of that. Even in a district that has been gerrymandered, I meet people from dozens of countries, with vastly different cultural and religious backgrounds, every single day.

How has domestic life has changed.
My domestic role has altered a lot. I once said to my husband, “Do you realize that I do 97 percent of the child-rearing around here?” To his credit, he did not disagree. But now the balance has shifted dramatically, in ways that have been wonderful for our kids. My husband has taken the lead on the day-to-day domestic circuit.

Before, I would bike my kids to school, work from 9 to 4, then pick them up and schlep them around to their various afternoon activities before heading home to prepare a well-balanced dinner. These days, while I am calling donors or knocking on doors in the district, my husband and mother take turns on the after-school activities circuit.

I still try to have dinner with my kids most nights, though I never, ever have time to cook that dinner. Then I am usually darting off to some meet-and-greet or political gathering before I collapse into bed to start it all over the next day.

A writer’s perspective.
My background as a professional writer has been, to my surprise, incredibly useful in this process, even if I sometimes annoy my staff by insisting on copy-editing every single comma in every single invitation. As I always say, the Democrats are losing the communications war — we have majority support on so many issues, but we don’t know how to articulate in a way that attracts voters. So my willingness to write it all down — whether it’s an explanation of partisan gerrymandering or a story about my great aunt’s necklace that she smuggled out of Nazi Berlin — has proven a huge asset on this campaign.

I think a lot of people have lost interest or hope in politics because the people who run are too often triangulators who speak in indecipherable code. What I’ve found is that you can attract a lot of support from people across the political spectrum if you are honest, say where you really stand, and have an honest conversation about the important issues.

I have never heard of any other writer running for Congress, unless you count the Senate bid of Barack Obama, who was an accomplished memoirist and actually considered a career as a writer before he launched his political career.

Your biggest cheerleader.
Probably my husband, whose own life has certainly gotten much harder since I took this leap. Also my best friend Kristen’s kids, who are such enthusiastic campaigners that they won’t even walk into Randall’s without door-hangers to distribute to customers.

Role model for running for office.
Ann Richards. She was brilliant, hilarious, and tough like only a Texas woman can be.

U.S. President you most admire for bipartisanship and wisdom.
Barack Obama.

Texas politics is legendary. Which U.S. congressman or congresswoman from our state has most admirably represented his or her district.
No one will expect to hear this from me, but the current Texas 7th’s first-ever congressman, George H.W. Bush!

Which do you think: ‘I am a woman running for office’ or ‘I am a candidate running for office’?
We’ve had a lot of Year of the Woman moments before, but I truly believe that 2018 is the real thing. My experiences as a woman are exactly what led me to run for office. It’s impossible to separate it from my candidacy. And being a mother was the determinative factor in running — I want my children to grow up in a country that is moving towards progress, towards living the values of decency, inclusion, and respect.

Moser’s photo shoot fashion: Tibi Serra sculpted top in ivory, $345; Sofie D’Hoore long skirt in red pepper, $715; Pamela Love Anemone earrings in sterling silver, $280; all Kick Pleat, Houston.

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