By Frank Bruni and Liriel Higa
Usually you only get to dream about a candidate like Chrissy Houlahan. People in the Philadelphia suburbs actually get to vote for her.
She’s brainy: a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Stanford, a master’s in technology and policy from M.I.T. She’s bold: service in the U.S. Air Force. She has entrepreneurial bona fides from her years as the chief operating officer of an athletic wear company but also had a top job for a group promoting childhood literacy. She’s a wife and mother, with two grown daughters.
So why, at 51, has she set her sights on the House of Representatives, when she never ran for any office before?
The answer is Nov. 8, 2016. To vote for Hillary Clinton, she put on a pantsuit. Her gay daughter wore all white, honoring suffragists. That night they broke out the Champagne. “I thought that history would be made,” Houlahan recalled.
When it wasn’t, her father, a Holocaust survivor, cried, fearing what Donald Trump’s victory could mean for the vulnerable and the powerless. Her daughter panicked about L.G.B.T. people. “Unnerving,” Houlahan called it, and her response was “to be part of the solution.” She has since raised about $3 million and emerged as one of the Democratic Party’s best bets to turn a red seat blue.
There are many ways to measure the urgency with which Democrats are approaching the 2018 midterms but perhaps none better than the mettle, motivations and number — much larger than in recent congressional elections — of first-time candidates who have jumped into the fray.
They’re creatures of an atypically tense moment with especially high stakes. They’re mirrors of the anxieties that so many Americans feel. They’re emblems of a yearning for new faces and approaches. They’re the year’s biggest stars and stories.