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The 26-Year-Old Who Challenges Nancy Pelosi

Posted April 18, 2024 at 9:45 AM EDT
Several savvy politicians want Nancy Pelosi's seat as the next Representative for California’s 11th Congressional District, but none actually ran after Pelosi announced her re-election. However, a 26-year-old Asian American small business owner parachuted into the arena and advanced to the general election, aiming to take Pelosi’s seat.

Several people wanted Nancy Pelosi's seat as the next Representative for California’s 11th Congressional District, entirely within San Francisco. California’s State Senator Scott Wiener and Pelosi’s daughter Christine were among them. Most were seasoned in politics, but none actually ran after Pelosi announced her re-election last September. Unlike these savvy politicians, a young Asian American small business owner parachuted into the arena, aiming to take Pelosi’s seat.

Bruce Lou, 26, entered California’s 11th Congressional District race and advanced to the general election. In California, the first and second-place candidates in the primary election proceed, regardless of their party affiliations. Even though Lou, representing Republicans, received single-digit votes, approximately 65% fewer than Pelosi, he remains Pelosi’s sole challenger this election cycle.

A Political Newcomer from Asian American Community

Lou is a political newcomer running a talent acquisition business. He openly admits that he’s young and has nearly zero former political experience, which he sees as his main trait.

“Isn’t it amazing? The only one who would prevent Nancy Pelosi is a 26-year-old political nobody!” Lou exclaimed to me immediately after we first met.

Lou dove into politics without really knowing what the political world was about. His only prior experience was a brief internship with Fiona Ma, who is now California's State Treasurer, 11 years ago. At the time, Lou was still in high school, and Ma served as an Assemblywoman.

“A sense of urgency” motivated Lou’s entry into politics.

“There are people suffering out there. Crime and safety are huge concerns for people… We need to effect change. It is now or never,” Lou said, “I don't think that people really understand the gravity of the situation.”

On social media, San Francisco is portrayed as a post-Covid hellscape, with homeless people everywhere and severe crimes occurring every day. While San Franciscans say most of these portrayals are wildly overstated, it is undeniable that crime rates have been notably increasing in recent years.

Amid the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, Lou organized a mass distribution of pepper spray in San Francisco's Chinatown to help Asian Americans, especially vulnerable seniors, defend themselves. “I was more of an activist rather than being involved in a political party,” Lou said. But now, instead of waiting for lawmakers to act, he's determined to become one himself.

“A lot of these hate crimes, I don't believe that hate is the right word for it, because it's not really hatred. It is a crime of opportunity. They see that we are weak, that we will not retaliate, that the system will not protect us,” Lou said the Asian American community needs to start projecting strength. “We will stand strong for our own,” he added.

Lou calls the Asian American community a “Sleeping Dragon”. “And the time when we wake up, and we start voting en masse for our own interests, is the day when the politicians will start listening to us,” he said.

Parents in the Asian American community expressed support for Lou during his campaign, hoping he becomes a role model for the next generation. They want their children to understand that joining politics is a viable pathway for Asian Americans as well, especially in San Francisco, where 34% of the population is Asian American.

A 26-Year-Old Boldly Opposes Nancy Pelosi

Most Asian American political candidates adopt moderate approaches. They prefer repeatedly asserting their agendas and carefully avoiding conflicts with opponents. Lou takes a different route. He boldly declares his ambition to defeat the incumbent, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying, “Nancy Pelosi is an authoritarian at heart.”

Lou said that Pelosi seldomly engages with her constituents in San Francisco, questioning her suitability as their representative.

“When she comes to San Francisco, she is behind a fortress. She has security all around her,” said Lou, “Not like me. I go around talk with business owners. I talk with homeowners. I knock on doors. She doesn't,” Lou said.

Lou’s bold approach towards the incumbent unsettled members of his community. Some attempted to dissuade him. “In the Chinese (American) community, this is not looked upon super highly. They think that's too dangerous,” Lou said, but chose to stay the course.

“I got a lot of messages telling me to give up,” Lou said, “Do I listen to them? No.” He appreciates his advancement to the general election as the only challenger to Pelosi, describing it as “such a meteoric rise.”

When Pelosi first ran for Congress in 1987, she was 46 years old. Lou, 20 years younger than Pelosi at that time, hasn’t sought support from any experienced political consultants since launching his campaign, saying that he doesn’t need them.

“I believe that my team is more talented than all the other consultants in the state of California. A lot of the conventional political wisdom does not apply anymore. I want new, creative, unconventional strategies because we are never going to win if we don't adapt to the new digital age,” Lou said. At 26, Lou is one of the oldest on his campaign team, which averages 23.

He asserted the urgent need for young people in Congress to replace the outdated seniors. A young team can bring innovative ideas to gain votes, like fully utilizing social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

A Conventional Moderate Republican Seeks Bipartisanship

However, when it comes to policy agendas, Lou’s top priorities aren’t innovative: ensuring education fairness, reducing taxation and government spending, and finding solutions to drug crisis. According to Lou, these are bread-and-butter issues that just make common sense.

“The real creativity is not in the policy,” Lou said. “The real creativity is in the compromises that we make with the other side to get things passed. In my short time in politics, I've realized that the hard part is not coming up with solutions but getting other people to agree with you.”

People around Lou once suggested he start with a lower position instead of aiming straight for Capitol Hill. But Lou saw no clear path for a Republican to ascend in California, a deep blue state. However, despite being endorsed by Republicans, Lou emphasizes bipartisanship.

Lou looked up to Rep. Jeffrey Jackson (D-N.C.) as his role model in Congress. He admires Jackson’s approach to breaking down the issues and being fair. Lou promised to be a fair Representative if elected.

When it comese to divisive issues like women’s reproductive rights, Lou avoided taking a direct stance. He described himself as a common-sense candidate, rejecting extremism and religiously driven beliefs.

Lou said he believed that when Congresspeople fight over party interests, it's the American people who lose because“if we put party over our country, then the American people suffer.”

California announced the official results a month after the primary election day in March. During the past month, every day at 4 p.m., Lou made sure to check the updated voting results, paying attention to even the smallest changes beyond the decimal point.

After the primary election, Lou’s campaign efforts haven’t slowed down. He continues to reach out to voters and hold fundraising events just as frequently as before. For Lou, the campaign is more than just winning; it’s about voicing concerns and raising awareness in his community.

"And then, even if you lose, you have succeeded," Lou said. "But I want to tell you, I'm not running to lose. I'm running to win and take Nancy Pelosi’s seat."

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