Last Thursday evening, Laura Moser was preparing for a meet-and-greet at an apartment complex on the west side of Houston. With a little more than a week to go before the Democratic primary, Moser was making a last push to meet with potential voters in Texas’s 7th Congressional District, where she is running as one of seven candidates for the nomination. Her campaign seemed to have the wind at its back, announcing earlier in the day that it had raised nearly $150,000 since the beginning of the year, a strong showing among other candidates in the primary field.
But just as Moser was walking into the event, one of her campaign aides suddenly pulled her aside and told her to check her phone. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the national organization dedicated to getting Democratic candidates elected to the House of Representatives, had just thrown her under the bus.
“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington,” read a statement posted on the DCCC website. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress.”
In addition to smearing Moser as a carpetbagger, the statement criticized her campaign for hiring the D.C.-based digital marketing company Revolution Messaging, at which Moser’s husband, Arun Chaudhary, is a partner. When contacted by the Texas Tribune, a DCCC spokesperson doubled down, saying that “Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate.”
When I met with Moser this weekend, she summed up her reaction in three letters: “WTF.”
The DCCC’s 11th-hour intervention in the Texas race generated a furious backlash on social media, and many progressive activists accused the group of violating its pledge to remain neutral in local party primaries. (The group has not responded to request for comment.)
Moser spent the weekend responding to the allegations at a series of campaign events in Houston, accompanied by the actress and activist Alyssa Milano, who had flown in the night before. They started the morning with a spin class for about thirty campaign donors at a fitness studio in Houston’s Memorial neighborhood before moving on to Pico’s Mexican restaurant for mimosas and appetizers.
There, Moser began a short speech to her supporters by acknowledging the “elephant in the room.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s a really hard thing to be a mother of young children and be attacked for your personal life.” Although she noted that her campaign had raised tens of thousands of dollars in the days since the attack (now more than $87,000, according to the campaign), she said she “would rather not have the money and not be attacked by my own party.”
Moser’s father, Bert, a commercial litigation lawyer in Houston, was more sanguine. “I think it’s good,” he told me. “This is the biggest congressional race in the country now. It certainly isn’t going to help the DCCC. What do they want, another moderate like Wendy Davis or Bill White? How did that work out?”
Moser’s campaign believes the national party has written off Moser as too liberal to win a general election campaign against Republican John Culberson, who has held the seat since 2000. The district has been solidly Republican since 1966, when George H.W. Bush won the seat, but in the 2016 election Hillary Clinton edged out Donald Trump here by just over a point, painting a giant blue target on the Texas 7th.
Clinton’s victory here, plus a widespread perception that Culberson is vulnerable, has generated the crowded field of seven Democratic primary candidates, including Moser, a journalist and author of children’s books. Other leading candidates include MD Anderson oncologist Jason Westin; Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at the Houston nonprofit BakerRipley; and lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The race is widely expected to go to a runoff, with the winner to face Culberson in November.
“I call him Country Club Culberson,” said Mary Morrison, who has lived in the district since 1970 and is supporting Moser. “He isn’t in the district, he lives in D.C.” (When asked to respond, via email, Culberson’s campaign spokesperson, Amanda Smith, highlighted the representative’s work to help secure federal relief aid after Harvey. She also quoted a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed that endorsed Culberson in the Republican primary and said, “We don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Hurricane Harvey without U.S. Rep. John Culberson in Congress.”)
Morrison decided to back Moser after attending a debate at which the candidates were asked if they supported legalizing marijuana. “She immediately put her hand up—she didn’t hem and haw,” Morrison said. “She stands up for things unequivocally.”
That same unapologetic attitude is what attracted Alyssa Milano to Moser, who came to national prominence after the 2016 election for founding Daily Action, a left-leaning text messaging service that sends calls to action to its over 300,000 subscribers. Daily Action has been credited with helping pressure Congress on issues ranging from President Donald Trump’s original pick for Secretary of Labor to the protection of the Affordable Care Act.
“I just connected with her message of being a mom, and being so angered by Trump getting elected that she wanted to do something about that,” Milano told me. “I can really relate to that.”
Moser and Milano have become avatars of the Resistance movement, which was founded in opposition to President Trump. In October, in reaction to the Harvey Weinstein allegations, Milano helped popularize the phrase “me too” on Twitter as a way for women to support fellow survivors of harassment or abuse. The hashtag #metoo soon became shorthand for the wider movement to eliminate sexual assault.
On Saturday, Milano drove voters to the polls, block-walked with Moser, spoke at the campaign headquarters, and took countless selfies with adoring fans. A longtime progressive activist, Milano has shown herself willing to hit the campaign trail; last year she stumped for Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Rob Quist of Montana—both of whom lost.
Despite (and perhaps because of) the DCCC attack, a sense of excitement pervaded the campaign. Over 1,000 people have signed up to volunteer.
“This isn’t a Republican district,” Moser said. “This is a district that doesn’t vote.”
Moser’s supporters reject the idea that she’s too liberal for the district. “She basically shares the same positions as the other Democratic candidates,” said Ben Moser, the candidate’s brother. “It’s not like she’s Rosa Luxemburg. Like, she’s going to walk out of Nieman and start the revolution?”
Like others on the campaign, he saw a silver lining to the recent attacks: after all, with the money they’ve raised since the DCCC released its statement they can finally afford to pay for a new television spot.
Full disclosure: In 2007 I worked for six months at Houston’s Brazos Bookstore, which was managed, at the time, by Moser’s mother.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the total number of voters, in the 7th Congressional District, during the 2014 Democratic primary. More than 7,000 people voted that year. We regret the error.