Forget polls and talking points. Rep. Steve Israel likes to show top Democratic recruits a scene from the movie 300 to get them riled up about running for Congress.
Israel, the man in charge of winning back the House for Democrats as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he cues up a confrontation between the vastly outnumbered Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas and the invading Persian army, led by Xerxes.
The cadence of the New Yorker’s speech slows and his voice deepens as he sets the scene.
“A small group of Spartans meets this overwhelming powerful force of Persians,” Israel says, as he grabs his copy of 300 off a nearby shelf in his office. “And Xerxes says to Leonidas, ‘We have’—I’m paraphrasing—'We have so many arrows to use against you that when we fire them, we will blot out the sun.’ And Leonidas looks at Xerxes and says, 'That's fine, we will fight in the shade.' ”
Israel is satisfied, even if he has confused the particulars (the dialogue is between one of Xerxes’s emissaries and a different Spartan). Still, Israel sees a parallel between the Sparta-Persia fight and the political battle between Democratic candidates and Republican-allied super PACs.
“I use that as a way of saying, 'You just gotta—they're going to come at you,' ” Israel says. “And those Republican super PACs, sometimes it's going to feel like they're blotting out the sun, you're going to fight in the shade.”
“So I use that to inspire them,” Israel says.
Israel is among those featured in this week’s National Journal magazine story documenting how the political parties and advocacy groups recruit people to run for Congress. Read the piece, out Friday, to see what other famous film clip Israel uses to rally his troops.