Harnessing the flood of activists coming via groups like Swing Left and Indivisible can be a challenge. The Katie Hill CA-25 campaign shows how to maximize enthusiasm.
In the good old days – B.D. (before Donald) – Democratic candidates for the U.S. House could count on one hand the kind of organizations they could turn to for volunteer support. Local Dem clubs, union halls, issue advocacy groups whose particular mission they supported…the list was short.
And that made marshaling those forces a relatively simple task.
But now, in the time of Trump, campaign managers are having a hard time staying in touch with all of the clubs and organizations that keep reaching out to offer their volunteer services. It seems their resource lists have virtually exploded.
Take California’s House District 25, where 30-year-old Democrat and first-time political candidate Katie Hill is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Knight in her quest to flip America’s “most flippable” House district blue. (Knight is the only GOP House member with all seven of the risk factors for loss identified by the Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman.)
Hill is getting help, not just from the usual sources – nearly a dozen Democratic clubs and a number of unions in her largely-middle class district straddling the L.A. County-Ventura County line – but also from a number of Dem clubs and union groups in neighboring solid blue districts in L.A., which have adopted CA-25 as their “swing district.”
She’s also receiving volunteer support from a number of organizations that didn’t exist two years ago, when first-termer Knight edged his Democratic foe in a district Hillary Clinton won by nearly 7 points.
Among the new sources of foot leather, phone dialing and postcard writing support in CA25 are the Indivisible groups that sprang into being in the days between Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration. They include CA25 Indivisible, the resistance Northridge, Antelope Valley Indivisible, Indivisible 2.9, and San Fernando Valley Indivisible, likely the largest local group with a volunteer roster just under 1,000.
Then there are the local outposts of new national activist organizations such as Swing Left, Code Blue and Sea Change.
There are local political groups, some formed in the past 1½ years, including Civic Sundays (a Swing Left SoCal action), the San Fernando Valley chapter of Suburban Women’s Advocacy Network, and Santa Clarita’s WIN to Lead.
And, there’s Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action, which continues to serve as a volunteer recruiting and activist training resource for Democrats across the country.
So with all of those organizations – and more – knocking on the Hill campaign’s office door, how does her team make the most of its bright blue opportunity?
Get organized, focus on logistics
By staying focused, responded Zack Czajkowski, Hill’s campaign manager. “The one big problem we face now is having so many canvassers at an event that it’s hard to train them all – we have to split the trainings into smaller groups.”
That was the challenge at the campaign’s first post-primary canvass on July 1, when Hill’s team – accustomed to groups of 20 or 30 showing up to volunteer – found itself prepping some 200 eager Democrats to hit the streets for Katie. But they couldn’t have timed it much better: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing was on site with her crew, taping a segment on 2018 grassroots activism featuring the Hill campaign, which aired the following week.
Another issue, Czajkowski continued, is that “with so many groups involved, people aren’t always sure where to sign up to volunteer. And it can be hard for us to loop all of the groups in…sometimes I’ll alert one club about an event and then realize I didn’t alert another one. But these are good problems to have!”
When interacting with the leadership of each volunteer organization, Czajkowski impresses upon them the campaign’s primary focus. “The single most effective way to get votes is by having face-to-face conversations with voters.” A good field operation, he explained, “can swing the vote by 3 to 5 percent. In the races we need to win this year to flip the House, most need 5 percent or less of a flip.”
A Democratic campaign veteran, Czajkowski added that the Dem Clubs and other organizations offering their volunteers “are giving us access to a larger group of people for canvassing than I’ve ever had before.”
The enthusiasm is palpable, he said. “In this cycle, in this district, all of the groups we’re working with are action-oriented. There’s a ton of fired-up people.”
July’s calendar of events demonstrates just how many.
Nine organizations – CA-25 Up, Swing Left CA-25, Code Blue, San Fernando Valley Indivisible, the resistance Northridge, WIN to Lead, Simi Valley Democratic Club, Stonewall Democrats of L.A., and the Heart of L.A. Democratic Club – hosted 25 in-district events for the Hill campaign during July, including an activist training academy, voter canvasses, voter registration, live and virtual phone banks, and postcard-writing events.
And that’s before get-out-the-vote efforts kick into high gear over Labor Day weekend.
Fundraising sources expanding, too
These new political organizations don’t just deliver volunteers to Democratic campaigns: they also deliver dollars.
In the second quarter of 2018, Hill’s campaign raised more than $1 million – none of it coming from personal loans and none via contributions from PACs or corporations, which Hill refuses to accept.
Swing Left, a national organization that formed immediately after the 2016 election, contributed more than $164,000 of that total through its District Funds program. That initiative sought individual donations during the primary to be released to the Democrat in each swing district who moved on to California’s November general election. Between Swing Left’s contribution and those of allied organizations, more than $295,000 was delivered to the Hill campaign once she sewed up her primary victory.
Swing Left’s Southern California Field Director Steve Pierson says the outpouring of individual contributions speaks volumes about the region’s eagerness to get involved. “We live in a blue, blue area, where it feels like our vote is like a drop in the ocean. In the past, campaigns saw blue districts only as piggybanks – but when people here realize they can just go down the road and help their neighbors flip a district, it’s incredibly empowering.”
That empowerment, Pierson added, propels both financial contributions and on-the-ground activity. “We’re never going to out-fundraise [the GOP] – Koch has already put millions into the race – but by raising money for Katie, we help her get ads out in what is the costliest media market in the U.S.”
Still, he declared, canvassing is key. “Congressional campaigns historically have lacked the capacity and the manpower to do enough of it. And the one thing that’s most effective is face-to-face contact, knocking on doors. That’s how we can help the most.”
Pierson urges Democrats across the country to seek out and support their nearest swing districts. “Seventy-five percent of Americans live within 50 miles of a swing district. If you’re looking to spend your time volunteering, you can help.”
To find your closest swing district, visit swingleft.org and enter your address or zip code. Then, lace up your walking shoes and volunteer!