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Teenage campaign manager working on former teacher’s bid for Congress in PA-06

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Teenage campaign manager working on former teacher’s bid for Congress in PA-06

Jun 22, 2024 | 6:00 pm ET
By Special to the Capital-Star
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Teenage campaign manager working on former teacher’s bid for Congress in PA-06
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Lucca Ruggieri (left) is campaign manager for U.S. House candidate Neil Young, his former teacher (Photo courtesy Neil Young)

By Davis Giangiulio

Eighteen-year-old Lucca Ruggieri made headlines a few years ago when he launched a polling firm while still in high school. Now bound for college in the fall, Ruggieri, who will vote in his first presidential election this year, is heading up his former teacher’s campaign for Congress.

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

Few options are available for teenagers to work on political campaigns — other than volunteering — particularly in federal-level races. The average age of a congressional staffer is 31, according to Legistorm, an independent database that collects information on Congress and state legislatures. 

Ruggieri has memories of politics from as early as the 2012 presidential election, when he was 6 years old. He volunteered for David McCormick’s 2022 U.S. Senate run where, despite the disappointing loss, he learned how to door-knock and converse with voters. Later that year, when emails to local congressional offices seeking an internship didn’t pan out, he started a polling company with a friend. Patriot Polling earned national recognition, including a place in FiveThirtyEight’s statistical analysis for the 2022 midterms. 

In January, Ruggieri first reached out to Young, his computer applications teacher from middle school. 

“I had no clue that he was going to run for Congress,” Ruggieri said. He thought the campaign was an opportunity to help someone he had a good relationship with and who he trusted. “I thought, ‘my teacher, is a good guy.’ I had just finished up with all my college applications, I might as well offer to help out.”

Ruggieri’s initial message was straightforward, Young said: he simply asked to meet and discuss the campaign. “When he showed me some of the other things that he was doing, I found it hard to believe,” Young said. “I found myself Googling Lucca, who I literally knew, and said ‘Let’s hear your ideas.’”

Ruggieri was originally placed in an advisory role. During that trial period, he was analyzing how to turn news stories into messaging for Young and writing a few strategy reports. Young said he was impressed by both the quality and turnaround time of Ruggieri’s work and his “back of his hand” knowledge of the district that meant he didn’t have to spend hours researching it. 

He took on the campaign manager role while he was still finishing his final assignments of senior year. But, Young said, he would remind Ruggieri that school came first. 

“Whenever I do something, I sort of go overboard,” Ruggieri said. “As soon as I got anything I’d be on top of it. I sort of worked through class,” he admitted. 

Both Young and Ruggieri acknowledge the race is an uphill battle, running against three-term incumbent Houlahan, who beat her Republican challenger in 2022 by 18 points. While Mitt Romney in 2012 was able to narrowly win Chester County in the presidential contest, where most of the 6th District is located, President Joe Biden won Chester County in 2020 by 17 points.

Houlahan also is arguably one of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation’s best fundraisers. At the beginning of April, campaign finance records show Young had $1,231 cash on hand, compared with Houlahan’s nearly $3.8 million.

Part of the GOP’s poor track record in the region is why Ruggieri thinks his voice could be valuable. “A lot of people who are involved in politics, they’ve been doing things the same way for a long time,” he said. “Coming from a young person and having a different perspective, that allows me to have some alternative takes.” 

Young said that Ruggieri’s age enables him to understand mass communication, like using social media platforms, extremely well, even better than those who may even be only just a few years older than him, since he’s had more exposure to social media. Young believes that skill is critical for his campaign particularly. 

“When you’re trying to run a race where you’re going to be outspent, the more exposure and ability to reach a wider audience at a price point that isn’t in the millions has gotta be one of the most valuable things that you can have,” he said. “I don’t think anyone does it better than the young generation right now.”

Ruggieri has also advised his former teacher to talk about education, an issue he thinks works in the suburbs and that Young said many are concerned about. According to his campaign website, Young supports expanding charter and private school options and public-private partnerships.

Republicans in Philadelphia’s collar counties have struggled in recent elections on education issues, losing school board seats in nationally-watched races after some conservative majorities implemented anti-LGBTQ policies and removed certain books from schools. Ruggieri said the Young campaign can avoid that outcome, however. “We’re trying to focus on the issues that impact Chester County, and not try to turn this into a polarized culture war thing that you see in a lot of races.”

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

“The average age of Republican voters in Chester County is 67 years old,” Roe said in a statement. “In order to win elections now and in the future, the Republican Party needs to appeal to young voters. Part of that appeal must involve opportunities for roles on campaigns.”

While Ruggieri is set to be in New York City in the fall for school, he and Young have no plans to change his title right now. Ruggieri is confident he’ll be able to manage starting college and running this campaign. 

“I can just take the train down and come back here on the weekends,” he said. “I’m going to keep on doing what I was doing. I’m looking forward to continuing this campaign through November.”