Courtesy Alejandra Campoverdi
Tierney McAfee
March 13, 2017 07:06 PM

Congressional candidate Alejandra Campoverdi is taking President Trump‘s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act very personally.

The 37-year-old former White House aide to President Obama publicly revealed last week that she has a genetic mutation called BRCA2, which means she has an 85-percent likelihood of developing breast cancer.

The disease claimed the lives of her grandmother and great-grandmother and almost took her mother’s, and now Campoverdi is making her BRCA2 diagnosis — and her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy in two years — the centerpiece of her campaign to fill Xavier Becerra’s vacant congressional seat in California’s 34th district.

“Health care is a life or death issue for so many Americans, so many people in my district in Los Angeles,” Campoverdi tells PEOPLE. “Sometimes we can get into debates that are very theoretical about issues, and forget that there’s a lot personally on the line for people every day — that every day someone doesn’t have access to health care, or that every day somebody has a bill that puts them in the position of going bankrupt.”

“I’m fine being vulnerable about [my BRCA2 status], because if it’s able to bring the attention back to people, which is what this is all about, then it’s worth it for me,” she adds.

White House Official Photo
Courtesy Alejandra Campoverdi

Campoverdi is one of 23 candidates running to fill the seat vacated by Becerra, now the California attorney general, in the April 4 special election. The top two candidates will continue onto a runoff election in June.

Campoverdi says the catalyst for her congressional run was the election of President Trump, whose proposed American Health Care Act has been met with resistance from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, and whose threat to support continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood only if it stopped providing abortion services was swiftly rejected by the women’s health organization. Just Monday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that under the House Obamacare repeal plan, fourteen million more people would be uninsured in 2018 than under current law.

Campoverdi, who says she worked to help pass Obamacare as an aide in the Obama White House “because I knew it would save lives,” challenged Trump by name in her first TV campaign ad.

“If Donald Trump wants to have a conversation about women’s bodies, let’s start with mine,” she says in the ad that debuted Thursday, two days after she went public with her diagnosis in a Washington Post interview.

“I don’t trust Donald Trump — or Republicans — to be honest about my health care,” Campoverdi explains to PEOPLE. “President Trump needs to think about how his disastrous policies are going to affect women and women’s health. And holding him accountable for that is something that I plan to do and to do very boldly. Where I come from, there’s no other way than to speak truth to power. I don’t come from the privilege of being able to be quiet, and I’m not intimidated by that at all.”

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Campoverdi says that as someone who was raised by a single mother, who has been on welfare and who was “the scholarship kid” at the different universities she’s attended (which includes Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), she’s “understood these issues in a very first-hand way.”

But when it comes to her family battle with breast cancer and all the heartache and trauma that has come with it, “My experience isn’t unique,” she says. “Most women have experiences around their health … and a lot of women have experiences that really pull into focus exactly the real-life implications of a lot of the issues that are on the table in Washington right now.”

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As a woman and a feminist, she says, “I take my own personal responsibility to speak up and to be a voice on these issues — but I also encourage other women to do the same. Because just one voice isn’t enough and where we’re really able to have power in Washington and really move the needle is if it’s a chorus of voices. And I think you see the power of that in the Women’s March and the Women’s Strike.”

Campoverdi was still hard at work on International Women’s Day, but she spent the day visiting with a group of women who participated in the strike.

Courtesy Alejandra Campoverdi

“We spoke about these issues and everyone shared their experiences and really supported each other in taking a stand and being a voice within our own respective industries. Because this is not a fight just for those in politics — this is a fight for everyone, whether you’re in entertainment or business or entrepreneurship or health or education. And so supporting each other and encouraging each other to own ourselves really publicly and loudly and to continue the drum beat is I think the best thing we can do right now.”

For her part, Campoverdi plans to carry the drum beat for affordable health care straight to Capitol Hill.

“And that means keeping the pressure on Republicans, that means keeping the pressure on President Trump, and also using every megaphone possible to hold folks accountable to the realities of what a lack of access to health care really means and what’s really at stake,” she says.

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