One of the more touching anecdotes from Sunday's Super Bowl was the advice undersized Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson got from his father growing up: "Russ, why not you?" Sandra Fluke may well be asking herself the same question.
On Tuesday, Fluke — best known for her 2012 congressional testimony in favor of mandatory contraception coverage, and then being called a "slut" (and worse) by Rush Limbaugh — filed with the California Democratic Party to run for the Los Angeles–area congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D). She isn't officially a candidate, since she hasn't filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, but "filing for the state party's endorsement means she's now officially part of the process," says The Washington Post's Aaron Blake.
[UPDATE: That was quick — the Los Angeles Times reported early Wednesday that Fluke has decided to give up on pursuing Waxman's seat and will instead run for the California state Senate seat being vacated by Ted Lieu, who is running to replace Waxman.]
Since her star turn as Limbaugh's sparring partner and speaker at the Democratic National Convention, Fluke graduated cum laude from Georgetown Law School, moved to Los Angeles with husband Adam Mutterperl, joined the California bar, and — according to her LinkedIn profile — started work as a "social justice advocate," lobbying the California state legislature on women's rights issues, representing human-trafficking victims pro bono, and giving speeches around the country.
That's maybe not the typical résumé of a successful congressional candidate. And Fluke wouldn't have the field to herself: So far, two other Democrats have filed for the Democratic Party endorsement, including Wendy Greuel, a former L.A. controller and mayoral runner-up who already has a campaign website — and many more candidates are expected to jump in the race. Fluke "will undoubtedly have some work to do in introducing herself to her would-be constituents," says Abby D. Phillip at ABC News. "Politics is, after all, still local."
But Fluke does have some things in her favor. First, she's shown she has the fortitude to stand as a public figure in the face of some pretty toxic criticism. "Surviving the wrath of the conservative media and speaking at the Democratic National Convention are no small feat, but retail politics is its own animal," cautions ABC News' Phillip, but even there Fluke has more experience than you might think.
Though she has never run for elected office before, she has stumped for 14 members of the House and two senators, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), since her rise to notoriety. Stage time and backstage exposure in high-stakes campaigns could provide invaluable experience, but it also means Fluke has some favors to call in.
That tees up the second big advantage Fluke has if she decides to run: money. Along with campaigning for congressional candidates, Fluke has also been an active fundraiser for a host of Democratic-aligned groups. Those relationships, along with her national profile, suggest she'll be able to raise a lot of campaign cash — especially if Limbaugh or other top conservative pundits attack her.
Money is important in a media market the size of Los Angeles, and national notoriety will help bring in donations. But money isn't everything, and if Fluke does decide to throw her hat in, she may well find that voters go with the candidates they know, not the rising Democratic star. So far, the only commentators who assume the seat is hers for the taking are conservatives, some of whom probably want her to run for the spectacle and blog traffic she'd produce.
Commentators on the left are divided on a Fluke candidacy. Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress argues that Fluke's interest in the race "provides yet another example that Democratic politicians aren't afraid to take an bold stance on reproductive rights this year." Fluke will help draw attention to the Democrats' portrayal a GOP "war on women."
Adam Weinstein at Gawker agrees that the "smart and fearless" Fluke "is a solid Democratic vote on virtually every issue, and is particularly experienced on women's rights," but he's still troubled by the idea that at age 32, she has "spent most of her brief adult life preparing to be a member of the pampered political nomenklatura." If Fluke does win, he adds:
Congratulations, America: You get more of the same entitled political class of Ivy-undergrad, DC-law-school, manicured, manufactured candidates who were born to run and grown to win. Even Fluke's congressional testimony — and the right-wing reaction to it — seemed engineered for maximum branding and marketing exposure of a young talent the Democratic Party wanted to move along the cradle-to-Georgetown Law-to-Capitol Hill-to-K Street-to Georgetown brownstone-to-grave career arc. It's hardly a phenomenon limited to this candidate and this party. Fluke and her supporters just did it especially well. [Gawker]
Maybe Los Angeles voters will be equally annoyed. But that's no reason Fluke shouldn't run for Congress.