The Michigan Democrat who could solve her party’s identity crisis

After his 18-minute speech, the audience stood and clapped. She returned to her table where her husband, Ray Wert, and Democratic agent Lis Smith, her new volunteer communications adviser, were waiting for her. Ray put his hand on her lower back. « You crushed that, » Smith told him. Dozens and dozens of spectators made their way to her table near the front of the room to thank her and pose for photos. The receiving line lasted over half an hour.

Mallory McMorrow in design mode

McMorrow wrote parts of his viral speech in his head, on his MacBook and in a bedside notebook made by Shinola, the classic Detroit-based designer and manufacturer. It was after 9pm on a weeknight in April. She had put her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Noa, to bed hours before.

Design is important to McMorrow. At Notre Dame, she started out as an advertising student, but eventually found her niche in the industrial design program. She won a national competition to design the 2018 version of the Mazda3 compact car. She took a class at Notre Dame called « The Meaning of Things, » where she learned about the emotional resonance that physical products have on people and how to « tell a story around the things you were doing. »

She wrote an article about the history of the Tupperware party. « It’s the first company to really tap into women’s organizing, bringing gatherings to your home, and building community, » she told me.

As a politician, she is both the product and its designer, which explains a key choice she made about how to frame her speech. At first she wrote with righteous anger. « A lot of it was memos about the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, » she told me. But then her design thinking – the engineer’s daughter who is part of her – took over. « After I released all of that, I crossed out a lot of it because I wanted to get it out of Republican versus Democrat.”

Still, she couldn’t hold back a certain YOLO-inspired boldness.

« I’ll be honest: once this kind of attack was sorely tested against me, part of me thought, « If I have to fall, I’m going to fall swinging. » And I didn’t expect the reaction we got, but I think there’s something to be said about that. I did not start my career in politics. I just wanted to do the right thing.

Mallory McMorrow on the move

McMorrow was 30 when she entered politics, following a decade-long career in branding and advertising that included stints at toymaker Mattel and as creative director of Gawker , the slash and burn website. In January 2017, she participated in the Women’s March in Detroit following the election of Donald Trump.

After the march, she and other women she met began writing postcards to Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s new education secretary from Michigan, expressing their dismay at the administration. Eventually, a friend asked her if she had ever considered running for office. She applied to the Michigan chapter of a group called Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office.

In May, she and her husband moved into a new house and got married the same month. In August, she announced her candidacy for election in a Republican-controlled district. She returned district blue a year later in 2018 on her first attempt. As a state senator, she introduced 40 bills. Not one received a hearing.


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