A teenage campaign manager working on a former teacher’s candidacy for Congress in PA-06

by Davis Giangiulio

Eighteen-year-old Lucca Ruggieri made headlines a few years ago, when he was still in high school, he started a polling company. Ruggieri, who will vote in his first presidential election this fall and starts college in the fall, is leading his former teacher’s campaign for Congress.

Ruggieri, who graduated this month from Great Valley High School in Chester County, is Republican Neil Young’s campaign manager to defeat U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-6th District).

Teens have few opportunities to work on political campaigns – other than volunteering – especially in federal races. According to them, the average age of a congressional employee is 31 Legistorman independent database that compiles information about Congress and state legislatures.

Ruggieri remembers politics from the 2012 presidential elections, when he was 6 years ancient. He he volunteered to run for David McCormick’s 2022 U.S. Senate seat, where, despite a disappointing defeat, he learned how to knock on doors and talk to voters. Later that year, when emails to local congressional offices requesting an internship were unsuccessful, he and a friend started a polling company. Patriot Polling has gained recognition across the country, including: FiveThirtyEight statistical analysis for the 2022 midterm semester.

In January, Ruggieri first contacted Young, his middle school computer applications teacher.

“I had no idea he was going to run for Congress,” Ruggieri said. He believed that the campaign was an opportunity to aid a person with whom he had a good relationship and whom he trusted. “I thought, ‘My teacher is a good guy.’ I just finished applying to college, so I might as well offer aid.

Young said Ruggieri’s initial message was elementary: He simply asked to meet and discuss the campaign. “When he showed me some of the other things he does, I had a hard time believing it,” Young said. “I Googled Lucca, who I literally knew, and said, ‘Let’s hear your ideas.’

Ruggieri initially served in an advisory capacity. During this trial period, he analyzed how to turn the news into a message for Young and wrote several strategy reports. Young said he was impressed both with the quality and turnaround time of Ruggieri’s work and with his knowledge of the district, which meant he didn’t have to spend hours researching it.

He took up the role of campaign manager while finishing his final assignments in his final year of studies. But Young said he would remind Ruggieri that school comes first.

“Whenever I do something, I kind of overdo it,” Ruggieri said. “Whenever I get something, I will take care of it immediately. I kind of worked throughout the whole class,” he admitted.

Both Young and Ruggieri admit that the race against three-term incumbent Houlahan, who defeated her Republican rival by 18 points in 2022, is an uphill battle. While Mitt Romney narrowly won the 2012 presidential election in Chester County, where most of the 6th District is located, in 2020, President Joe Biden won Chester County by 17 points.

Houlahan is also arguably one of the top fundraisers for Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. At the beginning April, campaign finance data show that Young had $1,231 in cash on hand, compared to Houlahan’s nearly $3.8 million.

Part of the GOP’s impoverished performance in the region is why Ruggieri thinks his vote could be valuable. “A lot of people involved in politics have been doing the same thing for a long time,” he said. “I’m a young person and I have a different perspective, which allows me to take alternative approaches.”

Young said Ruggieri’s age allows him to understand mass communication, such as the operate of social media platforms, very well, even better than those who may be just a few years older than him, because he has had more exposure to social media. Young believes skills are particularly critical in his campaign.

“When you’re trying to run a race where you’re going to be outspent, greater visibility and the ability to reach a broader audience at a cost that’s not in the millions has to be one of the most valuable things you can have,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is doing it better than the younger generation right now.”

Ruggieri also advised his former teacher to talk about education, an issue he believes applies to the suburbs and which Young said raises a lot of concerns. According to his campaign website, Young supports expanding charter and private school options and Public-private partnerships.

Republicans in Philadelphia’s collar districts weighed in on education-related issues in recent elections, losing school board seats in races watched across the country after some conservative majorities implemented anti-LGBTQ politics and some books have been removed from schools. Ruggieri, however, said Young’s campaign could avoid such an outcome. “We’re trying to focus on the issues that impact Chester County and not try to turn it into a polarized culture war like you see in a lot of races.”

Chester County Commissioner Eric Roe sees opportunities in engaging younger voters in campaigns.

“The average age of Republican voters in Chester County is 67,” Roe said in a statement. “To win elections now and in the future, the Republican Party must appeal to young voters. Part of the appeal has to be opportunities to take on campaign roles.”

Although Ruggieri will be attending New York City in the fall to start school, he and Young have no current plans to change their degrees. Ruggieri is confident that he will be able to start his studies and lead this campaign.

“I can just take the train and come back here on weekends,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I look forward to continuing this campaign into November.”

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