Making Politics “Cool”: Sara Jacobs Steps into the Frayby Brie Stimson April 25, 2018
Sara Jacobs is pretty unassuming when she walks through the door with her campaign manager, Chelsea Brossard. Dressed casually in jeans and no entourage, she could be mistaken for the new intern.
At just 29, she’s young, but that’s not a hindrance for her – Jacobs sees it as an asset. And why shouldn’t she? Young people have become more politically active in the last couple of years than the country has seen probably since Vietnam. “We just feel like we’re catching the wave right at the right time and have the momentum to take us through to June,” Jacobs tells me.
She is running for Congress in the 49th District, which is basically Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Encinitas and a small part of southern Orange County. Nationally, it’s known as Darrell Issa’s District, (which he barely won in 2016) and one of the most vulnerable seats for Republicans in the country. In fact, Issa announced his retirement the same day we were first scheduled to interview in January.
By March we had rescheduled, and the three of us sit in my office for the interview. Brossard pulls up a chair that I later realize is a little broken, although she doesn’t say anything – and that’s no surprise. Jacobs’ campaign is what I would call no fuss. And though she’s not among the first generation of female candidates running for office, you still get a sense that she knows she has to work a lot harder just to break even with the men.
Jacobs, who worked for the State Department during Obama’s presidency, was also a foreign policy advisor on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. As she told me about the importance of relatability in a candidate, I ask her if she thinks that had been a problem for Clinton during the campaign.
“I am so grateful to Hillary Clinton and to the generation of women who came before who did have to be more guarded, who had to be sharper edges who had to push through the boys’ club, and I really believe that them doing that has made it that much easier for our generation of women,” she says.
It’s a good answer, but it’s also insightful. Women candidates are often darned if they do and darned if they don’t when it comes to demeanor. A cautious female candidate is too guarded and an off-the-cuff candidate is shrill and emotional.
And while she hopes to win the female vote, the youth vote may be even more important. At 29, Jacobs would be the youngest congresswoman ever. Ever. There have been younger men, but she would be making history.
“Certainly the youth vote is really important,” she says. “We have five colleges that are near the district, so there’s a number of students, and what we’ve seen across the country is a few things: first of all, young people tend to turn out for young candidates. We saw that in Virginia, we’ve seen that in Texas. Also they need to feel they’re part of something that’s bigger than themselves … and, you know, you have to make politics cool and something they want to be a part of. For a lot of them politics is like their grandparents sitting around a card table. That’s the image. How do you actually bring politics to where they are instead of trying to bring them to their notion of what politics is?”
In the State Department, Jacobs worked on policy toward countering Boko Haram in the midst of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls, and helped the president’s efforts to improve governance in the security sector of the United States’ security partners. At the United Nations, she helped bring stakeholders together to create guidelines for peaceful and credible elections in other countries. She also helped create a strategy at UNICEF that allows the organization to more effectively navigate development and humanitarian challenges, including building a data-science team that has been effective in combatting the Ebola and Zika outbreaks.
Regarding Israel, she was against President Trump moving the embassy to Jerusalem. “Like every president before Donald Trump, I think that’s the wrong move,” she states. “I believe that the status of Jerusalem should be a final status negotiated issue, and just logistically the United States will have to decide where it thinks is Israel and where it thinks is not Israel by moving their embassy there, and I don’t believe it’s the United States’ role to draw that boundary. I think that boundary should be drawn between the two sides in a negotiated settlement.”
Jacobs sees a link between her foreign policy experience and her attractiveness as a candidate to the large military population in the 49th District.
“I worked in foreign policy, and actually what we found is that among military service members and their families, having that foreign policy background is really important to them because they want to know they have a representative who’s not going to send them into harm’s way without really thinking it through, and so we found that’s actually a really appealing background,” she explains.
Jacobs also has a lot of ideas for the military. “We’re also talking a lot to veterans, but also to military families and to the spouses of military service members, and I think there’s quite a lot we can do to make their lives better that frankly, if we had more women in office, I think probably would have been done already,” she says candidly. “For instance, subsidized childcare on base or making it so that the transfer schedule between bases is more aligned with school calendars so that the kids can stay in school for the full year, making it easier for military spouses to maintain their credentials across state lines if they’re a teacher or a real estate agent or any of those state level credentialed positions. We’re doing a lot of outreach to the military family community because we think that’s a really good entry point, but also they tend to be a little bit more liberal.”
She says the biggest issue facing the 49th is “unequal access to opportunity,” which she admits she has benefitted from and wants to use her elevated platform to change.
“That manifests in access to quality public education, but it also manifests in other ways,” she tells me. “I think we need to fix our criminal justice system, and I also think we need to make workplaces aligned with 21st century families and focus on issues like affordable childcare, which is often a major barrier for women to enter the workforce, and we need to make sure that economic enfranchisement is translating into political enfranchisement. We need to fix the campaign finance system and end Citizens United, and also, one of the things I’m really focused on is how we create a more participatory approach to government, so it’s not every two years, but actually all the time that you’re engaging with your elected officials.”
She says, in speaking to voters, trust in a candidate is a big issue right now. “I had a Republican leaning mom in San Clemente actually tell me that she doesn’t agree with me,” Jacobs said. “She’s a Republican, she voted for Issa, but this time she’s going to vote for me because she knows I’m going to be thinking about her kids, and that’s what matters to her.” Jacobs also believes health care is a right and supports a $15 minimum wage.
She works very hard on the aforementioned relatability and authenticity. “Being very relatable, I think especially among young people, authenticity matters a lot so – I’m never your normal politician – but especially when we’re engaging with young people it’s really important to make sure they can see themselves in the politician, but also that they feel like they have a champion that will really fight for the issues that they care about,” she said. “And it’s also making things fun like having fun music when we’re going door knocking, there are so many things you can do to get young people more involved that a younger campaign can do more easily.”
She says there’s a general acknowledgment that things aren’t working well in Washington right now, and voters want something new and different. “There was a couple weeks ago where we had a Trump voter, a Jill Stein voter, a Gary Johnson voter, a Hillary Clinton voter, a Bernie Sanders voter and someone who didn’t vote all say they were going to support me,” she explains. And those people never agree on anything.
Jacobs grew up in San Diego and is the granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs. She attends Beth El and considers the Jewish community a big part of her life. “I never thought that I would run for office, but growing up as a Jewish young woman here in San Diego, one of the most important things that my family and my community taught me was giving back and the need to repair the world.” She says she felt running for congress was the best way she could think to have the most impact on what needs change.
“I really do feel like it’s where I can have the most impact, and part of that impact is by serving as a model so that other young women can see that it’s possible.”