Meet the women candidates taking #MeToo to the ballot box

Four women candidates with personal experiences with sexual misconduct and assault say Trump helped galvanize a political movement.

Pennsylvania State Senate candidate Katie Muth, Florida State House candidate Anna Eskamani, and Ohio State House candidate Rachel Crooks participate in a discussion hosted by People For the American Way's Next Up Victory Fund in Washington on July 24, 2018.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — First Donald Trump inspired Katie Muth to tell her husband about her rape, then he galvanized her into running for office.

Muth had been married for about five years, but never told her husband about the man she says raped her after the rehearsal dinner of a wedding years before they met.

But in the fall of 2016, as she watched Trump stalk Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on a presidential debate stage days after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape, Muth felt compelled to start talking about the one thing she hadn't told anyone. So she did, starting with her husband.

When Trump later beat Clinton, she remembers thinking, “I’m going to wake up every day and realize there is a sexual predator in the White House.”

So she felt compelled to start doing more, which led her to help start a Southwest Pennsylvania chapter of Indivisible, the new anti-Trump "resistance" group. That, in turn, led her to decide to run for a State Senate seat currently held by a Republican.

"It's just really frustrating to watch people sit on their hands," she said.

Muth is just one of a growing number of women who are hoping to turn the #MeToo movement from a cultural phenomenon into a political force, and female candidates are getting increasingly candid in political ads and interviews about issues once considered taboo on the trail.

Muth, along with three other such women — candidates who have personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault — gathered Tuesday morning to discuss their experience with NBC News in the offices of People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group that promotes young candidates.

“I don’t know how you keep your s--- together,” Muth joked to Rachel Crooks, an Ohio state House candidate who is one of more than a dozen women to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct.

At all levels of government, in both parties, and among both incumbents and insurgents, women in politics are speaking about their personal experiences like never before.

“The silver lining of Trump’s presidency is the movement that he inspired,” said Crooks, who has publicly accused Trump of forcibly kissing her in an elevator.

"In my experience, the more I tell this very small story that I have — a literally maybe two minute encounter — the more it seems like outside of myself and it belongs to this Me Too collective," she said. “It’s part of everybody’s story now. And that burden is spread over all these women.”

Despite concern that her Trump story might overshadow the rest of her campaign, Crooks said it rarely comes up when she’s talking with voters. Local papers have barely covered it, she said, despite ample national media attention.

"I’ll talk to people who say they really like what that Trump is doing and I’m just like — um," she said with an exaggerated wince.

At just 23 years old, Myya Jones is taking on 13 other Democrats in a crowded primary for a Michigan State House seat from Detroit. She's already made a long-shot mayoral bid and now has a documentary film crew trailing her.

As a black woman who has been vocal on sexual assault for years, Jones said the biggest change she’s seen since Trump’s election is not about who is speaking out, but who is listening.

“We’ve been talking about this,” she said of women of color. “But it wasn’t until white people, celebrities, people with power, started speaking that those people started taking it seriously.”

Jones, who said she was first sexually abused as a young child, notes it was a black activist, Tarana Burke, who first started using the phrase “Me Too” back in 2006.

Anna Eskamani, the daughter of Iranian immigrants who is running in an Orlando State House district that includes the Pulse Nightclub, agreed that Trump’s election forced people to reckon with sexism when they might have otherwise looked the other way.

"Many of these women who have more power would not have done it unless Trump was elected,” she said. "These were women who could lead a life of comfort — now they couldn’t anymore."