The Colorado congressional candidate is a long-shot to win her conservative district. But she's determined to pull it off—with or without the Democratic Party's help.
When we met in July, Misty Plowright was waiting outside of a tea house in an industrial part of Colorado Springs. It was 95 degrees outside, but she was sipping hot tea. Her voice was calm, and she seemed unfazed by the national and international media attention she's received over the past month, since becoming one of the first two openly transgender people nominated for national office by a major political party.
With hundreds of other congressional seats up for grabs this year, Plowright doesn't think her bid to represent Colorado's fifth district in the US House of Representatives is all that special. But it is. This June, while working 40-hour weeks as an IT consultant, the 33-year-old Democrat defeated primary opponent Donald Martinez—a decidedly moderate cisgender Army combat veteran—running as a progressive outsider in Colorado's most conservative district.
And though it isn't—and shouldn't—be her campaign's focus, Plowright is, indeed, special. Alongside US Senate hopeful Misty Snow—a Utah Democrat who defeated primary opponent Jonathan Swinton by nearly 20 points—the two first-time candidates have made history, giving the transgender community a platform in congressional politics for the first time ever.
Plowright's success is all the more surprising, given her frank, even crass, personality. She's a bit of a character—last month, she told the Guardian that she'd like to own a Hello Kitty AR-15 and predicted that the next major American civil rights movement will involve artificial intelligence.
But she refuses to let herself be caricatured. And she's quick to argue that its her honesty and straightforward campaign style—rather than her gender identity, personal quirks, or the open, polyamorous triad marriage she shares with her wife and husband—that make her interesting.
Still, unconventional is perhaps an understatement when describing Plowright's campaign in a deeply conservative congressional district that's been held by white male Republicans since its creation in 1973. Her Republican opponent, US representative Doug Lamborn, has held the seat for five terms.
But Plowright thinks she has a fighting chance. Noting her Southern Baptist upbringing in an impoverished part of Northwest Arkansas, she pointed out that, unlike most politicians, she knows what it's like to have to choose between paying the bills and buying groceries.
"Show me one [congressperson] that knows what it's like to stare at cat food and wonder if you're really that hungry," she told VICE. "That experience does not exist there."
She describes her political ideology as that of a "social libertarian and compassionate capitalist," noting that "if people want or want to do something, they're going to get or do it."
"I'm not in favor in bans on things," she added, "but rules should be in place."
Though Plowright enlisted in the military in 2002, at age 20, she says that she knew from an early age that something about her was different. "Going into the military was kind of a last hurrah, to prove that I could actually do the man thing," she said. "I was running away from myself." She left basic training after a year and a half, receiving an honorable discharge due to a chronic leg condition. She began hormone therapy six months later, on December 9, 2004.
She met her now-wife and campaign manager Lisa Wilkes through a dating site in 2007. Plowright was living in Denver at the time, while Wilkes was in Colorado Springs, and they began an open, long-distance relationship. They entered into a domestic partnership in Seattle in early 2010.
The couple first met husband Sebastian McRae about six years ago, and in 2014, brought him into their marriage—during a trip to "Vegas for the World Series of Poker," Plowright told the Guardian. In our interview, Plowright said the relationship has an invaluable source of stability during her congressional bid and said that both Wilkes and McRae have played a role in the campaign.
The decision to run in the first place wasn't easy, though; in fact, it took the trio until just a few weeks before the local Democratic Party Convention to pull the trigger. But eventually, Wilkes told VICE, they decided that if not them, who else would change the calcified conservative climate of Colorado Springs? And what better way to do it than with the most unconventional candidates to ever grace the district's polls?
"Sometimes you sit there and say, 'What right do I have to run?'" Wilkes said. "Then we got to a place where it was, 'What right do we have not to run?'"
Within days of Plowright's historic primary victory, her campaign had garnered headlines in the Guardian, Washington Post, and Politico. And though the campaign has received hate mail and even death threats, there's also been a surge of support from trans people across the country.
"We were getting emails from people saying, 'I can actually have a life now. You're showing me that I can move forward with my life,'" Wilkes said.
In Colorado Springs, though, Plowright said support from Democrats has been limited. An avid Bernie Sanders supporter, she made a name for herself when she refused to leave the floor at the local county Democratic Party convention, placing blue tape over her mouth to protest the delegate selection process.
Since then, Plowright's relationship with local party leaders has been strained, she said, adding that the Democratic Establishment would have preferred to nominate her more moderate primary opponent, a Latino single father and combat veteran.
"She's not from Denver or Boulder. She's from the wing-nut heartland, but I didn't think she had a chance," said Gerrit McGowan, a Colorado Democrat who, like Plowright, supported Sanders in the Democratic primary. "I was like, 'Latino veteran, or trans IT girl.'"
Although she defeated Martinez, winning 13,000 votes to his 9,600, Plowright said party leaders still seem reluctant to embrace her campaign; she believes they think she has an "optics problem," because of her willingness to speak her mind.
They want "to pat themselves on the back for being inclusive," Plowright said. But "the fucking established powers of the Democratic Party here were against me. They were behind Martinez and against me. And they were against Misty Snow too. We won our primaries in spite of them, not because of them."
Faced with lack of Democratic Party support and a right-wing voter base, Plowright said she knows the race will be an uphill battle. But she's determined to pull off what even just a few years ago would have been unthinkable: win.
"Everyone's written this district off," she said, "but I've spent my entire life overcoming the odds."
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Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Plowright has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders. She has not.