A co-founder of March for Our Lives and the campaign manager who helped elect the first Gen Z member of Congress are teaming up to launch a new organization focused on getting more young progressives elected to office, primarily focusing on state lawmakers.
The group, called Leaders We Deserve, aims to help young people running for state legislatures and Congress by providing candidates they endorse with the campaign knowledge — from fundraising to networking — and money to win. It will place a larger focus on state legislative races.
Founded by David Hogg, a gun control activist and survivor of the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., and Kevin Lata, who ran Rep. Maxwell Frost’s (D-Fla.) successful 2022 bid for Congress, the organization hopes to elect progressive candidates who they say could help fight a far-right agenda being seen in state capitols across the country.
“The worst bills we’re seeing across the country, like ‘Don’t Say Gay’ [in Florida], permit-less carry and these abortion bans, are not taking place at the national level. They’re taking place at the state legislative level,” Hogg said. “That’s where a lot of the work needs to be done.”
The group plans to endorse 15 to 30 state legislative candidates younger than 30 and one or two congressional candidates younger than 35, depending on their budget.
Hogg and Lata said they will not be backing candidates who are challenging incumbent Democrats, instead focusing on open blue seats. The group — which is operating both a political action committee and super PAC — will also focus on states, such as Florida and Texas, that they think will not flip in the next immediate election cycles but could ultimately flip blue.
“We can start to lay the groundwork now for the youth counterrevolution against some of the far-right radical agenda that has been placed and disproportionately affected a lot of our young people, especially young women,” said Hogg, who will serve as president of Leaders We Deserve while continuing to serve as a board member for March for Our Lives, the group that he helped found in the wake of the Parkland shooting. His hope is these states would be Democratic-controlled “if we play our cards right in the next 10 or 15 years.”
Hogg, who graduated from Harvard this year, said he started coming up with the idea for Leaders We Deserve after working with Frost’s campaign. After Frost won, he called Lata to get his thoughts and shared that he wanted to start a political action committee and super PAC that would help elect progressive candidates such as Frost and Justin Jones. Jones is the 27-year-old Tennessee state representative who was abruptly expelled by Republicans this year after protesting for gun reform on the state House floor.
Lata was all-in. For him, this organization is an opportunity to help young people navigate the challenges that come with running for office. Some of those challenges, he said, include not having a financial network to raise money, not knowing how to get media coverage or seek an endorsement from local officials.
“We want to be the Emily’s List for young people, where we can come in and support candidates in every element of their campaign,” said Lata, who will serve as the group’s executive director, referring to the national group that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.
The emergence of Leaders We Deserve comes amid growing efforts to boost enthusiasm with younger constituents ahead of the 2024 elections. Youth voter participation has reached historic levels in recent election cycles, with a majority turning out for Democratic candidates. Still, President Biden’s approval among young people remains low.
Across six national polls in July that reported Biden’s job approval among adults younger than 30 or 35, an average of 43 percent approved while 52 percent disapproved. A Marquette University Law School national poll in July found that 75 percent of adults younger than 30 did not want Biden to run for reelection in 2024, compared to 70 percent among voters overall.
The organization expects to make its first round of endorsements in September, Lata said, explaining that several people they are considering haven’t officially announced their run yet.
Hogg said the group does not have a rigid formula for how it will define “progressives” they will back, but it plans to look for candidates who are pushing for policies that young people broadly support, such as gun safety and climate change.
Their advisory board includes more than a dozen lawmakers, state representatives and others, including Frost, Jones, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
Frost, who is the youngest elected member of Congress, will also help with fundraising and offering advice to the candidates.
He explained that the organization is building on the positive trends in the youth vote in recent cycles, saying that having more young people in office will turnout more young voters.
“Poll after poll shows that when people see candidates that have similar experiences to what they have, that look like them, that are roughly around the same age, people get more excited about voting for those folks,” Frost said.
Gen Z and millennials made up 26 percent of the electorate in the 2022 midterms, up from 23 percent in 2018, according to a report from Democratic data firm Catalist. And a majority of young voters backed Democrats with 65 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supporting them, Catalist found.
Of the 73 freshman representatives in the House — members who were elected for the first time in the November 2022 midterms — 31 are in their 40s, 15 are in their 30s and one — Frost — turned 26 this year. The remaining new lawmakers are in their 50s or 60s.
Hogg said his vision goes beyond helping the Democratic Party and is about creating hope in democracy for young people. He said young people are taught in school about democracy being the best system of government, and he agrees it is, but they also see a government where the Supreme Court is rolling back environmental protections, expanding gun rights and ending the nearly 50-year constitutional right to an abortion.
He worries that disconnect poses a threat to the future of democracy — but he is hopeful an endeavor such as Leaders We Deserve can bring up young elected officials who will fight for a better future.
“I think it can help increase voter turnout across states and up and down the ballot to show young people that there are the Justin Joneses, the Maxwell [Frosts] of the world that hear you, that understand you — and your vote does matter, because that’s how they got elected,” he said.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.