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Congressional candidate Alexandra Hunt wants you to look beyond her past

Alexandra Hunt listens to the concerns of Philadelphians during a rally in support of Philly students at the Cherry Street Pier in Pennsylvania on July 16, 2021.
Cory Clark
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NurPhoto via Reuters
Alexandra Hunt listens to the concerns of Philadelphians during a rally in support of Philly students at the Cherry Street Pier in Pennsylvania on July 16, 2021.

Alexandra Hunt is hoping to unseat establishment Democrat Rep. Dwight Evans for Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District during Tuesday's primary.

In a lot of ways, Hunt is a traditional progressive candidate. She's well-educated and has a background working in public health. She's also running on the main pillars of the progressive platform — like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

In other ways, she's a bit unusual for someone running for Congress.

She's spoken publicly about her brief time as a stripper in college to make ends meet. And most recently, she fired up an OnlyFans, a site where some people make money off of posting naked pictures. According to the Daily Mail, the account itself just features posts about Hunt's campaign.

At times, Hunt's unexpected background has grabbed negative publicity.

She said sexist coverage by the New York Post and Fox News has unfairly spotlighted her history as a stripper. It's coverage that she feels has overshadowed her other qualifications.

"My name has been erased and I'm 'The Former Stripper,'" she said.

In a conversation with NPR, Hunt said she's worked in public health for years and is so much more than her past.

Jennifer Lawless, politics professor at the University of Virginia, said Hunt's campaign represents how far American society and politics has gone.

"Ten years ago or 20 years ago she couldn't have even run" because of societal beliefs and pressure, Lawless said.

She added: "It's progress in and of itself that somebody with that background feels confident and qualified to run for office. I think that demonstrates some degree of progress."

Congressman Dwight Evans speaks in New York City on September 19, 2017.
Bryan Bedder / Getty Images for Concordia Summit
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Getty Images for Concordia Summit
Congressman Dwight Evans speaks in New York City on September 19, 2017.

Hunt fights back against the trolls

Starting the OnlyFans account was an attempt to hit back at an online troll who said they were looking forward to when Hunt loses and she starts an OnlyFans, she said.

"So I made an OnlyFans to push back on that troll, but also to push back on the stigma that this is a thing to be ashamed of, this would disqualify me as a candidate or as a politician," she said. "Because it's not and it shouldn't."

She said the account is a way to make money and shows what many people of her generation (millennials) must do to make ends meet.

"Alexandra's OnlyFans is her personal account and she does talk about the campaign as it is a part of her life. She shares her opinions, views, campaign updates, thoughts, memes or other things," Hunt's campaign said in an email. "She has shared photos and videos of herself as well. She has sent out Pay Per View content as well which has raised a significant amount for her."

Alexandra Hunt is hoping to unseat Democratic establishment pick Dwight Evans to represent Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District.
Eric Miller / Alexandra Hunt for Congress campaign
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Alexandra Hunt for Congress campaign
Alexandra Hunt is hoping to unseat Democratic establishment pick Dwight Evans to represent Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District.

Lawless notes Hunt has smartly used this as a way to connect to young voters struggling to make money.

But she added: "The risk though ... is that when you tell that story, there are going to be people who frame that story differently."

And Hunt has certainly experienced that.

The New York Post wrote: "Good luck pulling this one off. An ex-stripper from New York left behind her platform shoes for a political platform."

Hunt has faced increased vitriol as the primary neared. She's spoken publicly about having an abortion. That admission, she believes, has prompted cyber attacks on their campaign site and email system. The attacks have crippled their email access, she said.

"It's almost paralyzed our ability to send emails and fundraise," she said.

What the future holds

Lawless said the focus and criticism on Hunt's background is, unfortunately, to be expected for any candidate, Lawless said. That goes for male and female candidates.

"Once you're running for public office, every choice you made is something on which you'll be judged," she said.

Through her research, Lawless has found that in previous congressional races over time, there really isn't much in the way of explicitly sexist coverage, generally.

"When there is gendered coverage, and by that, I mean attention to women's appearances, or women's roles — and this would certainly fall into that category — women and men overall, are equally likely to receive that kind of coverage."

In Hunt's case, the extent her background will actually deter local voters, is probably minimal, Lawless said.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen before sunrise on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP
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AP
The U.S. Capitol building is seen before sunrise on Capitol Hill in Washington.

"The media have an incentive to cover what's novel, because what's novel is newsworthy, and this is unusual," Lawless said of Hunt's history. But that attention goes a long way in helping candidates rise above the noise, get their names out, and raise money.

Hunt has tried her best to lean into the trolling and criticism. Her campaign has made tongue-in-cheek T-shirts that read "I may have danced for money but I'm no corporate whore" and "Elect hoes."

She's also continues to use her experiences as a way to connect with voters.

"I think that the campaign demonstrates that candidates can use gender in a way that could ultimately be advantageous, even when the circumstances surrounding that use might not have been what they had intended," Lawless said.

Hunt said she has heard from people, once fearful of what lay in their past, say they were encouraged to run for office by her campaign. Win or lose, Hunt said she hopes her campaign makes a difference.

"I hope that more every day people who have these pieces of their past choose to run and choose to get involved," she said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.