On Election Day 2016, Rachel Crooks went to bed without watching the results. A friend texted her in the middle of the night. “It was something ambiguous, maybe just the word ‘sigh,’ ” Crooks says. “I knew what it meant, but I didn’t want to believe it.”
Weeks earlier, Crooks had accused Donald Trump of forcibly kissing her while she was a 22-year-old receptionist at Trump Tower in New York. She recognized Trump and introduced herself with a handshake. He didn’t let go, she said, instead kissing her on each cheek, then the lips. Her story ran in The New York Times days after the Access Hollywood tape was released. Trump’s campaign called the accusation “fiction.”
“I felt a lot of social anxiety because I didn’t know who knew about the story or what they were thinking,” says Crooks, now 35. “I was also very scared for our country.”
Crooks, a Ph.D. candidate in education administration, has a Bernie sticker on her car, had volunteered for both Obama presidential campaigns, and in the year after Trump’s election, began making public appearances with the #MeToo movement near her home in Tiffin, Ohio. She didn’t consider running for state representative, however, until friends suggested it: “You start to feel that people are looking to you, and you have this responsibility,” she says. “I decided to take that on.”
She faces a GOP incumbent who ran unopposed in the last election, an “issue in and of itself,” she says. Her northern Ohio district hasn’t elected a Democrat to the seat in more than 20 years and voters there favored Trump in 2016. They also voted for Obama, twice, however, so she’s hopeful she’ll be able to declare victory in November with an appeal to rational thinking. “I’m a sensible human,” she says. “I try to approach an issue or a problem and get both sides and understand it holistically before I land on a position.”
A first-generation college grad, Crooks plans to champion affordable education if elected. “As someone who has seen the positive impacts that education and going to college can have on someone’s life, that resonates with me,” she says. She’ll also push for a fair tax system and to reduce income inequality.
Above all, she promises to listen to constituents who she says have been overlooked by the district’s longstanding Republican majority. “As silly as it is, we had to pick a campaign song, and I was getting suggestions that were female-oriented or ‘woman power’ and it didn’t feel right,” she says. “I ended up choosing ‘Everyday People’ by Sly and the Family Stone. I just feel like that’s the group I want to fight for.”