28-year-old New Jersey computer programmer makes bid for Congress

 Dave Cole is one of the Democratic candidates for New Jersey 2nd Congressional district. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

Dave Cole is one of the Democratic candidates for New Jersey 2nd Congressional district. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

Dave Cole looks better suited to Silicon Valley than the Delaware Valley.

But the 28-year-old computer coder from Sewell is making waves in South Jersey as one of the Democratic candidates for the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

A Rutgers graduate, Cole started out as an organizer for the Obama campaign in 2007 and worked his way up to senior adviser in the White House three years later. He had a hand in building the “We the People” petition platform as well as new versions of WhiteHouse.gov.

Later, as a consultant at a private tech company in Washington, D.C., he worked on the homepage for Healthcare.gov — though, he says, not the part that crashed.

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So to communicate his campaign messages of transparency and job creation earlier this year, Cole returned to his techie roots. He wrote several articles for Medium, did a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” and even uploaded his campaign platform to the code-sharing website Github.

“And what’s really neat about this is it lets anybody go to our website, submit a comment on an issue, or actually make a change,” said Cole. “They can say, the way you’re describing this particular policy doesn’t make sense.”

In fact, Cole has already made some changes based on suggestions from users, including amending the language of his position on equality.

The strategy also leaves a digital footprint, which dovetails with Cole’s desire to run a wide-open, public campaign that involves voters.

“Any changes that we make to the website are completely transparent and tracked. So people can see as we change our language, as we evolve the way we talk about certain issues,” he said.

But Cole has no shortage of political hurdles to jump before possibly taking office.

First, he’ll have to beat lawyer Bill Hughes Jr. for the Democratic nomination in New Jersey’s primary election on June 3.

That won’t be easy. Hughes has a large fundraising lead over Cole as well as the backing of some national Democrats. Also. his father, Bill Hughes Sr., once held this congressional seat.

Should Cole make it through the primary, he would then face off in the general election against Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a 20-year congressman who’s up for his 11th term.

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