Segall ’01, other alums facing tough battles for Congress

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

While on the campaign trail for the U.S. House, Josh Segall ’01 occasionally carries around with him a beat-up pair of gym shorts that were mailed to him by an old Brown classmate. The shorts, which his Brown classmate used to wear while running, were made in an Alabama plant that is now shut down. The shorts represent the need to invigorate Alabama’s infrastructure in order to reignite what was once a booming Alabama economy, he said.

As Election Day nears, Segall, who is running in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District, a relatively blue district in a staunchly Republican state, said his campaign is going strong. He ran unopposed in the primary. “We raised a decent amount of money and everyone who was thinking about running decided not to,” he said.

Segall now faces the Republican incumbent Mike Rogers in the general election. An Oct. 1 poll indicates Rogers has an 8.5 percentage point lead over Segall, though a month ago Rogers led by 21.5 percent.

Rogers is a lot more vulnerable than people realize, Segall said.

“People couldn’t tell you anything about what he’s done or what he stands for,” Segall said. “I’d say that seems vulnerable.”

Segall said his strategy since winning the primary hasn’t changed. His campaign has focused for some time on the economy, an issue that is especially important to constituents who are concerned about the recent financial crisis.

“The key to having a strong economy is building infrastructure,” Segall said. “People want somebody who’s got a plan to take advantage of (Alabama’s) economic potential.”

Segall’s campaign, which was once considered a long shot, has gained ground in the last few weeks. “I think it’s definitely going to be a tough race,” Segall said, adding that the media attention towards his campaign has been favorable recently. “It’s kind of a new thing that they’ve realized – that it’s really close.”

As Segall has cut his deficit in the polls by more than half over the last few weeks, people are taking him more seriously. The fact that Segall managed to raise over $800,000 despite being young and a first-time challenger, was “shocking to a lot of people,” said Nicholas Reville ’01, Segall’s old roommate, now the owner of a non-profit software company in Massachusetts. It’s a good indicator that he has “a real shot,” Reville said.

During the campaign, Segall has faced increased scrutiny because of his age – he is 29 – but Segall said he is unfazed by the criticism. “My opponent is arguing that he’s got experience, but as far as I’m concerned, experience is only valuable if it gets you something. As far as I can tell, his experience hasn’t gotten anything,” said Segall.

Brown connections have provided Segall with more than just a pair of old running shorts. Other Brown friends have been helpful with fundraising, policy research and composing speeches, he said. “Just about everyone I know from college” gave around $100, he added.

Segall displayed early signs during his time at Brown that indicated he would go on to run for public office. He was the president of the College Democrats and responsible for bringing in many important speakers, Reville said. Segall said he also worked on a couple political campaigns during his college years, including one for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Reville said none of their former classmates were surprised to hear that Segall is running for Congress. “I don’t think he has a traditional politician personality, but he always loved meeting and talking to people,” Reville said. “He’s much better than I am at getting to know people and remembering everybody’s names.”

While at Brown, Segall worked with Associate Professor of Political Science Ross Cheit, who agreed with Reville. Segall “was such a funny guy,” Cheit said. “I remember him as gregarious … He was fun to work in a group with.”

Other Brown alums in congressional races include Jan Schneider ’68 in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, Joshua Zeitz PhD ’02 in New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District, Gordon Clark ’82 in Maryland’s 8th District, Steve Meister ’76 in Maine’s 1st Congressional District and Dan Maffei ’90 in New York’s 25th Congressional District.

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