Twenty volunteers stood around a small, barren office in West Los Angeles, awaiting the arrival of their chosen candidate. This was the kickoff, their first meetup.
Mostly women in their 20s, they were getting instructions on how best to engage voters door-to-door when a tiny Jack Russell terrier wearing a T-shirt and campaign sticker scampered into the room, closely followed by Sandra Fluke, the candidate for state Senate.
“Thank you guys so much for coming out this morning,” Fluke said to the crowd after formally introducing her dog, Mr. President. “And for spending some of your weekend helping out – it means a lot to me personally.”
Fluke, whose name rhymes with “look,” is a rock star among the volunteers. She was simultaneously all-business and affable – the mark of a seasoned politician. She’s a champion of women’s issues, a rising star in the Democratic Party who floors audiences with her speeches, and a warrior who stood up to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh while still in law school.
BONA FIDES MINTED ON THE NATIONAL STAGE
Fluke’s fame was made entirely in Washington, D.C. Her ascent began in 2012, when the Georgetown law school student and activist for women’s issues took center stage in the national debate over contraceptive coverage and the new health care law. Obamacare required religious institutions to offer the coverage; Georgetown, a Jesuit school, did not.
Fluke objected to her school’s policy and told a panel of Democrats on Capitol Hill that birth control could cost students a prohibitive $3,000 over the course of attending law school. She related the story of a law school friend who lost an ovary when she stopped taking birth control to help treat her polycystic ovarian syndrome because it was too expensive.
Limbaugh supported the university, citing religious liberty, and had a field day with Fluke’s testimony. Among other things, he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his national show. Republicans and Democrats alike denounced his remarks. President Barack Obama called Fluke and thanked her for speaking out. An influential Washington public relations firm with close ties to the White House, SKDKnickerbocker, offered its services pro bono to help Fluke handle the newfound fame. They are still advising her.
Limbaugh apologized, and the furor made Fluke something of a household name. She went on to become a national advocate for reproductive rights, and was tapped as a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Now, the question is whether that D.C. fame translates into L.A. voter support, and a state Senate seat that could launch a political career.
VOLUNTEERS FUELED BY CANDIDATE’S EXAMPLE
The volunteers are on board.
“To see how strongly she was getting attacked motivated me to want to help her ... rise to power,” said Kaya Masler, a political science student at USC. “It was just one of the most amazing moments watching her DNC speech. I remember getting shivers from it.”
Masler, who has been volunteering for Fluke since the beginning of the campaign, said that the intelligent and passionate person who appears before crowds is the same when no one is looking.
“She goes at every single thing she does with that kind of strength, that conviction and that really keen intelligence that she brought to her DNC speech,” said Masler. “It’s not not just a turn on, turn off thing – she keeps it on all the time.”