At 26, California Democrat hopes to become second member of Gen Z in Congress

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(WASHINGTON) — Cheyenne Hunt, at 26 years old, is running to do something only one other person in her generation has done so far: Get elected to Congress.

It’s a challenging road ahead to representing California’s 45th District: First, Hunt is running against six other candidates in the primary, scheduled for March 5. If Hunt succeeds there, she’ll likely take on incumbent Republican Michelle Steel, who won her most recent race by about 5%.

But Hunt’s campaign has the potential to make history. She’d be the youngest woman in Congress — eight years younger than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who currently has that distinction — and would become just the second member of Generation Z on Capitol Hill.

Florida Democratic Rep. Maxwell Frost, elected last year at 25, was the first member of Generation Z to enter Congress.

“We’re missing such vital representation in our entire federal government,” Hunt said in an interview.

Regardless of the outcome of her race, her candidacy reflects her generation’s increasing political power as they reach the qualifying age to run for Congress, an expert said.

“A greater percentage of Gen Z are running for office than when the last generation was this age, meaning they are more politically active,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Marymount University law professor and political commentator.

Hunt, an Orange County, California, native and former Senate aide, said she clearly remembers her first political experience, in the fourth grade, when she learned about climate change and was inspired by Al Gore’s documentary on the subject, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Higher education, being raised by a single mother and a determination to succeed helped her discover her passion to better serve her community, she said.

She believes more young people need to be in Congress, where the median age of voting members of the House was nearly 58 years old as of January, according to the Pew Research Center.

“I’d love it if someone else jumped in, but the only Gen Z woman running for Congress in the entire country is really intimidating,” Hunt said.

“It’s becoming clear that I’m going to be the only woman unless somebody [comes in the race],” she said. “And I also think it speaks to our systems of power and the barriers to entry for young women generally.”

The district Hunt is running in includes parts of the Anaheim area, about half an hour from where she was raised by her single mother and grandmother, both of whom emigrated from Syria.

Hunt obtained a dual degree in political science and public policy from the University of Denver and then earned a law degree from the University of California at Irvine.

She went on to be a law and policy clerk for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., including working on the first impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump — he was acquitted — and on technology policy to, she has said, promote accountability for major tech companies.

She has also worked at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, and she’s built a relatively notable social media audience on TikTok, where she has more than 90,000 followers.

“I use social media primarily as an educational tool. That was how it started for me … I thought about what I want to see more of online and it was, frankly, nuanced conversation about policy issues that either the media was overlooking or they didn’t have the kind of time to do a deep dive on,” Hunt said.

She credits Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., for inspiring her to pursue a career in politics.

Quoting Pressley, Hunt said, “Policy is my love language. It became the way that I wanted to be of service and really translate some of that pain into change.”

Hunt’s political platform centers on climate change, the economy and abortion rights, including supporting legislation that would codify abortion access nationwide.

“I feel like it’s my duty … the idea that we are a generation of women that has fewer rights than our mothers and grandmothers is an absolute abomination and, frankly, a global embarrassment,” Hunt said.

Steel, Hunt’s potential opponent, has said she agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade’s national guarantee to abortion access.

“Abortions should be left to the states,” Steel told The Los Angeles Times last year, in part.

“Personally, I am pro-life and do not believe in abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother,” Steel said then.

Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Levinson said that elections since Roe was reversed indicate abortion can be a motivating factor for voters. “And we can see that Republicans may have miscalculated the political impact of the [Supreme Court] decision,” she said.

Hunt is also campaigning on addressing homelessness and said that her district has failed in addressing the high cost of living.

“If the average American is now one unexpected medical bill away from bankruptcy, you have lost your freedom to dream,” she said.

Steel has also sought to highlight high costs and how to address the “homelessness epidemic,” including through more jobs and social services, health care and expanding affordable housing units.

“I will always fight Washington’s reckless spending problem that is making life increasingly unaffordable for working class families,” Steel said on her campaign website.

Levinson said Hunt has an “uphill battle” to win Steel’s seat, in part because of Steel’s fundraising advantage and higher profile.

“Michelle Steele is still popular in the district and … she can get her message out in a way that nobody challenges her,” Levinson said. “And that does matter.”

Hunt said her message isn’t just reflected in her candidacy.

“You don’t have to run for Congress to make a difference in the system. The power of your vote is profound,” she said. “The power of registering five other people to vote is profound.”

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