An unprecedented number of women are chasing political office in the 2018 midterm elections. This month, we're profiling several worthy candidates who are seeking to effect change.

By Romy Oltuski
Oct 22, 2018 @ 5:30 pm
Courtesy Chrissy Houlahan

Allow Chrissy Houlahan to introduce you to your new political affiliation: “There’s a group of veteran women candidates who are running together this cycle, and we call ourselves The Badasses,” says the former Air Force captain favored to win Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District.

The “posse” of nine hopefuls met on the campaign trail and now text each other for support. “We represent Army, Navy, Marine, CIA, and we’re doing this new form of service because it needs to be done,” says Houlahan, 50. “It’s a call to action that’s stronger than anything else I've felt in my adult career.”

Of their unofficial team name, she adds with a laugh, “we were advised that it may be off-putting — but true to the badass brand, we really didn’t care.”

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A first-time Democratic candidate, Houlahan has at different points in her career been an industrial engineer, the COO of a $250 million basketball apparel company, a 45-year-old Teach for America fellow, and a soccer mom. But, she says, “even though my career looks pretty eclectic, there really is a through line in it,” and that comes back to why she’s running: “service.”

“It’s something I challenge my own children to do: think about your skills and passions, and figure out their best use,” Houlahan says of her roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. “I'm the kind of person who sees a problem, and fixes it. I want to be this kind of person for my kids, my community, my country.”

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A Historic Race: If Houlahan wins, she’ll not only break up the largest all-male delegation in the country, she’ll also turn a battleground red dot blue. “[This seat is] one that we had been pursuing and never conquered, so it would be pretty darn meaningful to me if I was able to help take down the white whale of congressional districts.” At the same time, Houlahan hopes to reach across the aisle. “I believe that my community is fundamentally a purple place,” she says.

Career 180: After her career as a military engineer, Houlahan helped run the major athletic apparel company AND1 and founded a nonprofit startup to help companies improve corporate culture. Then, at 45, she decided to pursue a totally different path. “I thought that at that point in time, the biggest crisis in our country was how we were educating ourselves and the next generation,” Houlahan says, so she joined Teach for America and taught chemistry in North Philadelphia. “That was hands down the hardest thing I've ever done,” Houlahan says, but it led her to education advocacy and, eventually, the ballot.

Leaning in: While toying with the idea of running , Houlahan emailed the pro-choice PAC EMILY’s List for guidance. “I reached out by hitting reply to one of their $3 solicitations, attaching my resume, and asking if they thought I would be a good candidate,” she says. “Apparently they read that inbox!” She attended a training session called Ready to Run with her mom to learn what it took to run a campaign. Once on the trail, Houlahan wasn’t shy to lean on her constituents either. “We have created a real sense of community, all those remarkable women that I met in a huddle or at the Climate March or in their living rooms. Those are, to this day, new friends of mine.”

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Time to Run: Houlahan, who considers herself an introvert, generally feels more comfortable working behind the scenes. But, she says, “I felt like I couldn't not run, that I I needed to raise my hand and be helpful. I am very concerned that a lot of our fundamental freedoms and the progress we've made collectively is in jeopardy. So when I did a little self-inventory, I realized I had a lot of background, experience, and passion that could be helpful in a place like Congress, whether it's national security issues, building businesses that care for a community, or taking care of kids and educating them. Those are things our government should be doing, and I thought I could be useful in this time of crisis.”

The Campaign Trap: “There are a couple things that are surprising to me,” Houlahan says of her first campaign experience. “One is I had this understanding that folks in office were ego driven and weren't necessarily hardworking people. That has proven to be absolutely untrue, regardless of party or policy or politics. But the other thing I found surprising is just how divisive this political process is. There's a whole lot of name calling and blowing things up that you can understand why many people would be discouraged from participating in it. There's very little room for candidates to talk about the actual issues, like tax relief or infrastructure or access to healthcare.”

Leading Compassionately: One of Houlahan’s proudest accomplishments was shaping the company culture at AND1. “I really valued the kind of jobs that we were able to create in our community. We had everyone with healthcare, everyone with extended family leave and medical leave, and vacations, everyone with 40 [paid] community service hours. Those kind of special things that were important to me as a young mom I was able to build into the DNA of the company as the Chief Operating Officer there,” she says. That experience taught her how to create policies that make real differences in people’s lives. For her own employee community service hours, Houlahan focused on STEM education. “All of us need better access to the skills we need for the jobs of today and, even more, the jobs of tomorrow.”

For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download now.