It wasn’t quite like The Bachelor. There was no rose to accept and no one wanted to “grab her for a sec.” But when Senator Elizabeth Warren asked Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley—dual citizen of the United States and #BachelorNation—to be a cochair of her presidential campaign, Pressley did feel chosen. (For the record, she has staked out a firm position on this season’s heartthrob, Peter Weber. He is—she rules—“so dreamy.”)
In 2018, Pressley became the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. (That was six years after, in 2012, Warren became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.) But the relationship between the women dates back a decade, before either came to Washington. A former political aide, Pressley held a seat on the Boston City Council from 2010 to 2018. And in that time, she started to hear more and more about Warren—a professor at Harvard Law School—who had attracted awe and ire from corporations for her emphasis on consumer protections.
“We have forged a close personal relationship, texting, even worshipping together,” Pressley tells me late last month. But then, of course, this is Warren she’s talking about—a proud wonk, whose ambitious plans are so central to her campaign that she sells tote bags emblazoned with “Warren Has a Plan for That” on her campaign website—so Pressley adds: “We’ve also done good policy work together.”
Pressley is one of three women (and three freshman Democrats) whom Warren tapped to chair her campaign. In late November, Warren announced the group in a tweet—Pressley, plus representatives Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Katie Porter of California. All three women were elected on progressive platforms in 2018, with Haaland becoming one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and Porter defeating a two-term Republican incumbent, thus becoming the first Democrat ever to represent her district.
Since the women joined the campaign, all three have, of course, been dispatched to states nationwide to make the case for Elizabeth Warren. This weekend the trio assembled at a middle school in New Hampshire to stump for her ahead of the state’s vote. The results are seen as critical. After her third-place finish in Iowa last week, Warren needs an impressive showing to lend her campaign some momentum. (The fact that most post-Iowa media seems to have erased her from the caucuses there, focusing instead on jostling between her male competitors, hasn’t helped her cause.) So Pressley points over and over to Warren’s commitment to taking on inequities. Porter calls out her anti-corruption record. Haaland speaks to Warren’s support for Native communities, a particular asset to the campaign given the complicated nature of Warren’s past claims of Native American roots. (She has apologized.)
In an email, Warren emphasized the unique skills that her cochairs bring to her presidential race: “I’m so honored to have these women as leaders in our campaign. They were part of the wave of women in 2018 who volunteered, organized, and won, up and down the ticket. They didn’t wait their turn to make change. They got in the fight, advocating for a government that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the powerful. They inspire me, they inspire my team, and they inspire millions of little girls all across the country.”
It’s true that the three cochairs—personable and popular in their own right—are a boon to Warren, showing up to motivate crowds for the candidate even when she can’t be in a given state or at a certain event in person.
But in conversation with them, something else becomes clear. On the trail and in interviews for stories like this one, the women also make the case for a more purposeful investment in female leadership—at the top of the ticket and in public life. “We reflect the variety of ways in which women come into public service,” Porter says. “The fact that Ayanna was a city councilperson, the fact that Deb was an organizer and the head of her state party, the fact that I was someone who flipped a district—each of us in our own way has that direct life experience. And now we’re building and growing a sustainable movement for change.”
The aim, in other words, is bigger than Warren, although for Porter in particular much of it can be traced back to her. She has known Warren since her own time at Harvard Law School, when she enrolled in Warren’s class on bankruptcy law. (This is a detail that tends to crop up in profiles of Porter; the student and the professor, now the representative and the senator.) “I sat in the front row; I thought if I did that she might not call on me,” Porter recalls. The class was held at 8 a.m. Warren had an excellent reputation, according to Porter, but the course was intense: “It was not a class that attracted people who just wanted to skate.”
Almost two decades later, Porter can still recite portions of Warren’s first lecture. “One of the things that means so much to me as a cochair is to hear her talking now about those fundamental same issues,” Porter says, ticking through them. “How do we create an economy that gives every hard-working American an opportunity to be successful? How do we think about balancing the incentives that capitalism creates for people and businesses to take risks, to invest in themselves and grow…with some of the hardships?”
But Warren’s influence wasn’t theoretical; Porter didn’t just feel it in the solidification of her values or in her approach to the law, but she felt it in her real life to. After several months in law school, she had begun to think that she too might want to be a professor, despite the odds for women in the field then. She and Warren went for lunch near campus at local institution Border Cafe, and on their short walk back—“Elizabeth is a notoriously fast walker”—Porter broached the subject. “I was working to keep up with her, and I remember getting my nerve up to tell her that I thought I wanted to be a law professor. And I framed it like, ‘I want to try. I want to try to become a law professor.’”
She had told some of her other mentors as much, who’d encouraged her, albeit without much real direction. Warren, as Porter remembers it, had a different reaction. “Elizabeth immediately said, ‘Wonderful, let’s get a plan.’” When Porter hears her talk about her mentor’s plans now, with almost the same words—Warren has a plan for that—it makes her smile. That’s a leader, she thinks, a person who can show people what’s possible.
For me, the opportunity to be in partnership with the women who helped create that historic majority, who are tackling corruption in Washington, who have such powerful voices, and who are creating space for the voices for other women—that was just incredible.
And how. In 2016, less than three weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, Porter decided to follow Warren’s example once more and run for office. When she told her former professor, Warren responded with two assurances that Porter can still quote. First, she said: “I will be with you every step of the way.” And second: “You will love being a candidate, because every day you’ll have the opportunity to learn something, to hear a story you haven’t heard before, to see a pocket of your community that you didn’t know existed.”
Of course in 2019 it was Warren who approached Porter. She wanted her to join her presidential team. “I did that thing you’re never supposed to do,” Porter says. “I was like, ‘Yes,’ no hesitations.” Then, it occurred to her that she should ask some questions, the first of which was, “Who else is it?” “She told me it was going to be Ayanna and Deb, and I was incredibly thrilled,” Porter says. “They’re two amazing leaders, and for me, the opportunity to be in partnership with the women who helped create that historic majority, who are tackling corruption in Washington, who have such powerful voices, and who are creating space for the voices for other women—that was just incredible. I saw it as the chance to be part of not just the Warren team but this team of other leaders.”
Haaland, who revels in campaign life, agrees. “Elizabeth saw something in each one of us that she felt would make us a good addition to her campaign,” Haaland says. “It was about what we could bring to the table together.”
The women might have been close regardless, given their political dispositions, the committees some of them sit on together, all the legislative priorities and values shared between them. But for Pressley, the campaign has been a factor. Her “sisters in service,” as she calls them, have become the people in whom she confides, the people who understand “this rarefied walk that we walk, the joy and the pain, the blessing and the burden, the honor and the hurt.”
No matter what happens in New Hampshire and in the primaries that follow, the cultivation of these bonds and these leaders will have tangible effects. This baton pass—from a woman from one generation of leadership to three in the next—will have its impact both within this race and far outside of it. All three women expect to have lifetime careers in public service, defending their seats in 2020 and then charting their own paths after that. Warren can claim a role in those futures. Porter knows it: “My youngest daughter is named Elizabeth,” she says. “That’s not a coincidence.”
Mattie Kahn is the culture director at Glamour.
Originally Appeared on Glamour