Stacey Abrams explains how to compete in a tough state

This week I’ve been listening to The Wilderness podcast about the path to victory for Democrats in the presidential election. During the fourth episode of the second season, “Chapter 4: The Southeast,” the host of the show, former Obama head speechwriter Jon Favreau, interviews Stacey Abrams about how she accomplished her historic run for Governor of Georgia in 2018. 

Abrams came incredibly close to becoming the Governor of Georgia even though there hasn’t been a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion for a decade, there has never been an African American woman Governor of Georgia (oh, wait that’s every state), and voter suppression is historically embedded in Georgia’s electoral system. 

Abrams’ approach to her groundbreaking race in a very difficult state holds lessons for Democratic candidates here in Idaho and in Canyon County.  

Work on both expanding the electorate and winning over existing voters 

Abrams’ strategy included both registering new voters as well as campaigning in places where “Democrats had given up hope.” 

Abrams’ campaign increased the youth vote in Georgia by 139% and the black vote by 40%. In fact, more black voters voted for her in 2018 than the total of all Democrats who voted for Governor just four years before.  Abrams explained that only 20% of new registrants are likely to turn out to vote, so her team made sure people who were newly registered were educated on the importance of their vote as well as the process of how to vote.

Abrams did not stop with expanding the electorate. She also campaigned to “low-propensity voters,” those who are unlikely to vote, and “swing voters,” those who frequently change their political ideology. 

Abrams explained that new registrants, low-propensity voters, and swing voters are likely to ignore political advertising on TV, radio, and social media. Instead she explains that “these voters need talked to,” which is why she made her field team the foundation of her campaign.

Focus on voter outreach and build the field team early

Abrams started building her field team in June and July of 2017 for her election in 2018. Because of this, “We were able to knock on doors and have thoughtful conversations months in advance of both the primary and the general.” As her team raised more money, they expanded their field team. 

She explained that if her team didn’t talk to voters and “explain to them why their vote would matter, all the advertising in the world wouldn’t matter, because they would essentially ignore it.” They eventually bought TV and digital advertising, but “field had to be the baseline.” 

Build local teams 
Abrams’ team focused on addressing specific community needs instead of high-level ideas like “jobs and healthcare.” To do this effectively they hired their organizers locally. They didn’t hire organizers from Atlanta and bus them to Albany, they hired organizers from Albany. She explains, “We made sure we had people from community talking about community so that their connection to the vote was real and authentic.” This also ensured that she wasn’t just another politician showing up in a community asking for votes and leaving only empty promises behind, she was training local people in political activism and organizing.

At the end of the interview with Abrams, Favreau summarized some important points he’d heard from multiple politicians including Abrams while making his podcast.

“The people who aren’t voting may look like Democrats, but that doesn’t mean their views are aligned with Democratic activists or regular Democratic voters. They are more skeptical of politicians and more disappointed with politics in general. These voters can be persuaded to vote if organizers and candidates are willing to show up and listen to their concerns and not just a few weeks before the election.”

Our local Democratic candidates can learn a lot from Abrams. We need local organizers having important conversations about what is needed in each community, and we need these organizers on the ground early. 

You can make a real and lasting impact this election season by becoming a Democratic Precinct Captain 

Precinct Captains and precinct organizers are crucial to the success of candidates–and Democrats don’t have nearly enough of them in Canyon County.

Precinct Captains gather information from voters in their local area that candidates at all levels need.     

Candidates start their campaigns by appealing to known Democratic supporters for donations and volunteer help. Then candidate teams work to persuade undecided voters to vote for them. Finally, as election day approaches, teams Get Out The Vote (GOTV) by making sure both original and newly-persuaded supporters get to the polls.  

Precinct Captains make it possible for candidates to know who the Democratic supporters and the undecided voters are. Without this information each Democratic candidate has to use their volunteer time and donations figuring it out on their own. Without good voter information, each candidate needs to knock hundreds of extra doors. This is a very inefficient way for Democrats to win elections. 

This problem is compounded because often candidates don’t share the information they find out about voters. For example, none of the information the presidential candidates figure out about Canyon County voters will be shared with the Canyon County Democrats or our local candidates. 

When precinct captains figure out which voters are which, every Democratic candidate – local, statewide, or federal – is able to use that information to help their campaigns. And the information will be available to candidates in future elections as well as this one. The information Precinct Captains gather this year will help Democratic candidates for years.

To be a good Precinct Captain you start by introducing yourself to the other known Dems in your area (we have lists). I promise that many of these Dems will be happy to hear from you. It is likely that they feel isolated, and you can show them that they aren’t alone. Some of these Dems will probably be interested in helping you and soon you’ll have a small team. 

The next job is to talk to some of the 100s of voters that we know nothing about. Information on which voters are Democrats, middle-of-the-road, undecided, or Republicans is incredibly helpful to every Democratic candidate. 

It also helps if Precinct Captains can discuss what issues matter to all of these voters. Are the people in your precinct mostly worried about their kids’ schools? Or their healthcare options? Or the environment? Knowing what voters care about helps Democratic candidates understand their constituents and makes it possible for them to connect with voters on the issues that matter. 

As a Precinct Captain you may also find yourself registering new voters, helping people with absentee forms, and driving people to the polls on election day. And you’ll help with GOTV efforts by making sure all the Democrats in your precinct actually get out and vote. 

Precinct Captains have other duties within the structure of the Democratic party. They elect the District Chairs and County officers who vote on the Idaho Democratic party leadership. (Between you and me though, no other duties are nearly as important as getting to know the Democrats in your neighborhood.) 

By becoming a Precinct Captain you can make an impact on Democratic campaigns this year and in the future. 

If you are even a little interested, email us at CanyonCountyDems@gmail.com. We can get coffee and talk more about your precinct. 

And do it soon. Ada County has invited Canyon County Precinct Captains and potential Precinct Captains to a training on Feb. 22. Even if you are just curious, you can attend this training to learn more. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/precinct-captain-training-tickets-86747242337 

Make this the year you run for the legislature 

Currently, we have four legislative districts in Canyon County. District 10 is most of Caldwell, District 12 is north Nampa, District 13 is south Nampa, and District 11 is most of the rest of the county. Each legislative district elects three legislators every two years – two State Representatives and one State Senator. So, that’s twelve Canyon County legislative seats that are up for election in 2020. 

We are actively recruiting candidates for 2020 in all four Canyon districts. At this week’s Canyon County Democrats meeting, we identified three people who are planning to file to run for the legislature this year: Chelsea Goana-Lincoln in District 10 and Pat Day Hartwell and Chelle Gluch in District 12. 

If you have ever thought about running for the legislature, now is the time. 2020 is shaping up to be a big year. A lot of voters are getting interested in volunteering and they can help you get elected and make a difference in our state. 

And you can win. I know Democrats haven’t won here in awhile, but there are indications that is changing.  

Caldwell’s District 10 is a particularly promising place for a Democratic victory. The district is divided into 14 precincts, numbered from 7 to 20, with boundaries roughly from Farmway to Midland and Hwy 44 to Homedale. According to the Secretary of State’s website, District 10 has 18,888 registered voters. 

In 2018, Proposition 2, the initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho, received 62.7% of the vote in District 10, winning in 13 out of its 14 precincts. Admittedly, this victory does not correlate directly to Democratic success. Proposition 2 had supporters from both parties. Democratic candidates and lawmakers backed the measure overwhelmingly while Republicans were divided. Outgoing Republican Governor Butch Otter supported Proposition 2 but current Governor Brad Little did not. And once the measure passed statewide, Republican legislators pushed back hard during the 2019 legislative session by voting for several limits (aka sideboards) to Medicaid’s expansion.

Even if a ballot measure with only Democratic support were to win in District 10, it wouldn’t indicate that Democratic candidates could also win. Ballot measures that champion Democratic causes get more votes than Demoratic candidates. In the same election that voters voted for Medicaid expansion they voted for candidates who opposed it. This happened all across the state. 

The good news is that some Democratic candidates also did well in District 10 in 2018. Cindy Wilson, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, won 49.3% of the D10 vote. 

Let me say that again – a Democratic candidate won 49.3% of the vote in District 10. 

This is a candidate who is not from here, does not live here, and did not do a lot of voter outreach here, and yet she almost won here. Let that sink in. 

Wilson got over 50% of the vote in 7 of the 14 precincts in District 10.  

If Wilson could do that well, imagine what a candidate who lives here and actively campaigns here could do. 

Districts 12 and 13 have 2018 results nearly as good as District 10’s and District 11, has been showing continuous improvements. 

If you’ve been thinking about running for the legislature, now is the time. The sooner you get started with your campaign plan and your voter outreach the better. 

If you are worried that you have no idea what running for legislature would take, write us at CanyonCountyDems@gmail.com. We’ll talk to you about what you need to do and about the support we can provide with fundraising, campaign planning, recruiting volunteers, and voter outreach. 

The filing deadline for legislative candidates is March 13th, but you do not need to wait until then to get started. 

We are looking forward to hearing from you. That email again: CanyonCountyDems@gmail.com. 

Canvassers at your door are good news for democracy

Political canvassing or door knocking is when someone comes to your door to talk to you about politics. The canvasser may just be doing a survey, or they may want your signature on a petition or a vote in a coming campaign.  

You may think political canvassing is awesome. And if so, you are right! It’s been around since the Roman Republic. Research shows it is the best way to get votes.  Winning candidates all over the country canvass to persuade voters and  get them to the polls. 

Or you may think canvassing is strange and annoying: The conversations feel awkward and uncomfortable; it’s intrusive that the canvasser knows who you are and where you live; and sharing your political opinions with a stranger at your door is not on your to do list. 

But canvassing is important for candidates–and for all who support democracy.   

Canvassing works, which is why candidates in contested races do it. 

From the outside, campaigns look like a lot of email fundraising, Facebook and Instagram posts, and advertising, direct mail, fancy donor dinners, yard signs and bumper stickers, speeches, debates, and polls. While those things are important, politicians who have won tough, contested races will tell you that field teams (canvassers) are by far the most important part of a campaign. 

Study after study has shown that canvassing works. An article in Vox titled, Experiments show this is the best way to win campaigns. But is anyone actually doing it?, details some of the research about canvassing. Google the topic and you’ll see decades of research supporting this.  

And right now a hoard of political canvassers have descended on Iowa. They are knocking on doors and making phone calls trying to get as many voters to commit to caucus for their Democratic presidential candidate as they can. This Marie Claire article gives a day in the life of a couple of this year’s Iowa canvassers: What It’s Like to Be a Presidential Campaign Field Organizer

A strong local example of how canvassing works is Steve Berch, State Representative from District 15 in Boise. He canvassed and canvassed and canvassed his way to victory. When he won his fifth race, he had knocked on over 20,000 (!!!) doors and was the only Democrat to win in his district. 

Former Representative Mat Erpelding, Representative Melissa Wintrow, and Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, speaking on a panel together last summer, told great stories about canvassing and pressed prospective candidates to build their field teams early. Erpelding advised candidates to just put up  a quick and inexpensive website and then focus on their field teams. 

Canvassing has been shown to work, and winning candidates at all levels of government do it. Political canvassing also strengthens democracy. 

Talking to our neighbors about our values is a good thing.

The right to govern ourselves seems like a pretty obvious idea, but democracy is relatively rare. Our right to get together and make decisions about who will govern us –to put it simply — is a pretty big deal. 

It can be distasteful to talk about politics. In many cases, the political is personal. For example, if you are canvassing for a candidate that says all immigrants from Mexico are criminals, that is very personal for someone who has immigrated from Mexico or someone who has family who immigrated from Mexico, or for someone who knows or works with someone who has immigrated from Mexico, or for any decent person who thinks people should be treated with respect. So, it can be hard to have conversations around this candidate without things getting awkward (at best). 

But we can’t have it both ways. If we value our right to collectively pick the people who govern us we have to stop refusing to talk to each other about the issues that are important to us and who we want to govern us. 

 Opening up to each other about our values, wants, and needs leads to a stronger democracy. 

Getting out in our neighborhoods and our towns and having these conversations leads to a better understanding of what is important to us, what we need, and what we want, and, therefore, who we should vote for. 

Having said that, canvassing works best when canvassers are working off of targeted ‘universes.’ It is not a good use of campaign resources to have canvassers for Joe Biden knocking on the door of someone who loves Trump, has always loved Trump, and will always love Trump. It is important to talk about politics, but there is no need to antagonize each other when it can be avoided. 

Have I convinced you? Canvassing works, winning issue campaigns and winning candidates do it, and canvassing strengthens our democracy. 

So, greet that next canvasser that comes to your door with a smile, ask them questions about the issue or candidate they are working for, offer them your honest ideas and opinions, and send them off with a nice “thank you for strengthening our democracy.”

And volunteer to canvass for a candidate or issue you care about. You can make a real difference by simply walking around chatting with people in your community. 

Book Review – REPRESENT: The Woman’s Guide to Running For Office and Changing the World

When President Trump won the presidency in 2016, June Diane Raphael, producer-actor-podcaster-feminist, thought that if Trump could win elected office, she certainly could too. She had no idea where to start. She couldn’t find a running-for-office guidebook with the information she wanted and so she teamed up with Kate Black, former Vice President of EMILY’s List, to write REPRESENT: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World. REPRESENT inspires women who are thinking that maybe, possibly, they might want to run for office one day and encourages them to run and to run now.

REPRESENT is part inspiration and part hard truths about the difficulties of running for office. On the inspiration side, REPRESENT presents academic research as well as testimonials from women who have run for office and won. Did you know that a 2011 study found that men are 60% more likely to feel qualified to run for office than women? And that’s not all. During the same study a majority of men who felt they were not qualified to run still said they would consider running anyway. 

Ayanna Pressley (US Rep from MA) explains that self-doubt was one of the problems she had to overcome before she ran for Congress. She worried she wasn’t smart enough and that she hadn’t done enough to run for public office. She eventually realized she was qualified because she had the desire to serve and her experiences would make her an empathetic and effective leader. And now she’s a Congressperson. 

The authors tell you in all caps headers that “YES, YOU ARE QUALIFIED TO RUN FOR OFFICE” and “YOUR EXPERIENCE IS YOUR EXPERTISE.” And they point out that “Men. Are. Not. Waiting.” Men are not waiting until they have more experience in their careers or more experience in local public office before they run for a state or federal office. And if you need more reminders later in the book, each chapter ends with “Keep Reading. Stay Working. We need you.” 

REPRESENT doesn’t sugar coat how hard it can be to run for office, the book holds some hard truths. Depending on the office you are running for, campaigning takes time and money. You may have to get help with some of your current responsibilities like caring for an elderly family member or taking kids to sports and activities. Or you may have to ask for some time off from your job so you can spend time campaigning. In the end, win or lose, the work of campaigning for office will open up new opportunities for you and so the time you invest will be well worth it. 

Women face even bigger hurdles than men when it comes to raising money. Women have accumulated less wealth than men, women get paid less for equivalent work, and women don’t have the same access to networks of wealth that men do. And, let’s face it, even in the best of circumstances raising money can be difficult and uncomfortable, 

REPRESENT offers advice about how to figure out how much money you will need, how to get started raising money, and organizations that can help build your fundraising expertise. Crisanta Duran (former CO State Speaker of the House) provides her advice, “Lead with your ideas and values for the position you’re running for. It’s easier and more effective than asking ‘Hey can you contribute money to me and my campaign?” 

REPRESENT stops short of telling you how to actually win your campaign. There is no information about calculating your win number, defining your universes, cutting turf for door knocking, setting up your office, or training your volunteers. 

REPRESENT provides a realistic way to determine if you should run. It tells you to quit worrying about things you don’t need to worry about (am I qualified?) and instead focus on the real issues you may deal with (can I rearrange things so I have the time? can I raise the money?). All of this comes with a healthy dose of encouragement to go for it. You are needed at the table. 

Start Running! We need you.