Race to November: 3 Reasons to Think Beyond Candidates

By Sarah M. Williams / Co-Founder and CEO, Propel Capital

Source: Sister District

This is it — in three weeks we will know how this country showed up, or didn’t, at the midterm elections. Most of us have already given in this election season, but with races tightening, we can’t stop now. Together we need to make additional, late investments that can make a difference in the midterms and beyond.

Two years after launching Propel Democracy, one lesson is clear: we absolutely must win Congress — flip the House and fight for the Senate. But we’ve also come to deeply believe that if we invest smart as well as big in winning Congress, we can lay the groundwork for transformative policy and even bigger wins in 2020.

Here’s how —

We are looking beyond candidates to groups like Color of Change, MoveOn, Mijente, and Indivisible that are operating with increasing sophistication to help us both win elections and transform our democracy. Together, these groups are active in close to 200 House, Senate and gubernatorial races across the country.

3 reasons why we should think beyond candidates:

  1. We want to win big in 2018 and even bigger in 2020, 2022 and 2024

Robust, movement-building groups are creating infrastructure that will have a profound impact in the 2018 cycle — and, with resources, even greater in 2020 and beyond. Building a platform through issues that resonate with local communities, these groups are, in many ways, taking a page from the Right’s playbook: an educated, organized base that is mobilized during and between election cycles can transform policy outcomes and our political culture.

Conservatives have been doubling down on their core constituencies every day of every year for decades, and they now control 33 governorships and 31 state houses. But they haven’t consolidated power by investing solely in individual candidates — they’ve long understood the power of investments in their base through aligned institutions like the NRA. In Florida, for example, the NRA has enacted a sweeping, pro-gun agenda without making a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records. Instead, they focus on building a strong membership that is mobilized in key elections up and down the ballot.

We can challenge ourselves to beat them at their own game by investing in organizations that engage voters on issues they care deeply about — health care, criminal justice and immigration reform, the opioid epidemic, fair wages, or clean water (which turns out to be among the top concerns for voters in Michigan). Groups working on these issues are playing a pivotal role in progressive wins now and every day until the 2020 (and 2024) elections.

2. We need accountability by proxy

After we elect officials, most of us can’t spend time holding their feet to the fire, tracking how they vote and if they showed up for work. But if, God willing, we win the House — we need to support our elected officials to advance progressive agendas and then keep up the pressure if they fall short.

Strategic and tactical base-building groups protect our political investments by working every day to hold those we elect accountable and ensure we have a democracy that works for everyone. Done right, these groups are empowered by us to be our “proxy” on key issues they monitor and advocate for all day, every day of the year, across races and states. We saw this first-hand with Medicaid expansion after Democratic wins in Virginia — wins secured in part by years of advocacy and organizing from New Virginia Majority to restore voting rights to 168,000 formerly incarcerated people and a massive college registration effort.

We don’t need a candidate beholden to us personally. It’s higher leverage for our political dollars if candidates are beholden to powerful, vibrant movements and organizations that speak for many, not an elite few.

3. Finally, we need to hedge our bets.

Many of us give to candidates or political parties because we get asked a lot and it’s easy to do. But what if we fund a candidate who is going to win anyway and our contribution could have made the difference elsewhere? What if our candidate loses? (One of the losing Florida Democratic primary candidates for governor spent $23 million on television ads and has nothing to show for it.)

We’re all about winning but also want our dollars to go far and have an impact, even if our candidates don’t win — we like to think of this as “losing forward”. So we’re betting on groups that register and connect with voters year-round — not starting from scratch a few weeks out from an election. Win or lose — these groups maintain that connection post-election, organize for important policy wins, and hit the ground running to get out the vote for the next cycle. It’s a much better investment of electoral dollars than rushing in the last few weeks of October and trying to get people’s attention for candidates they haven’t heard of with little connection to their everyday lives.

If political donors had invested this way in Texas last year or the year before, we would be closer to engaging the 800,000 additional voters needed to flip that state blue — and, with conservatives unleashing a slew of negative ads this week, even the most amazing progressive candidates need all the help they can get in Texas.

What we do right now in October will make a difference.

Below is a list of carefully vetted, tactical organizations that are working in races up and down ballots across the country — from high profile Senate, gubernatorial, and congressional races to state legislators who will draw fair congressional districts. Our additional support now provides the energy and resources needed for these groups to make the final push — helping to deliver votes in November and lay the groundwork for organizing every day after to fight for the future of our nation.

(And, as Reverend William Barber says, “we must put legs on our prayers” — so, in addition to making donations, here’s how to sign up to canvas, phone, text or drive people to the polls before Election Day.)

  • BlackPAC: Using the power of year-round electoral engagement in Black communities to win elections and change economic, justice, and political systems. Targeting critical House, Senate and gubernatorial races in nine states in 2018.
  • Color of Change PAC: The largest online racial justice organization is, in partnership with Planned Parenthood Action Fund and other leading progressive organizations, mobilizing infrequent voters in close to 50 important House, Senate, gubernatorial, and state legislative races in FL, MI, and NV.
  • Electoral Justice Project (a project of the Movement for Black Lives): Training a new generation of Black progressive political operatives across 12 states to engage new voters around issues that matter to them.
  • Indivisible Project: Post-2016 effort of thousands of voters across the country to hold congress accountable and elect new representation. Targeting 70+ House, Senate, gubernatorial, and other races this November.
  • Mijente: Digital and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building. Employing a strategic combination of issue-based campaigning, electoral organizing, and digital communications. Mobilizing voters in GA and AZ this cycle.
  • MoveOn Civic Action and Political Action: National organization mobilizing millions of members and voters in all but three of the nation’s 3,000 counties. Targeting 100+ House, Senate and gubernatorial races in 2018.
  • Sister District: Harnessing energy and resources from more than 30,000 volunteers to ensure wins in strategic state legislature races critical to redistricting. Targeting 31 key races in nine states in 2018, and scaling up considerably for 2020.
  • Working Families Party: Progressive grassroots political party recruiting, training, and electing the next generation of leaders to office, and working to enact progressive policies once elected. Backing hundreds of candidates across 20+ states.

The organizations below vet and fund state-based groups working on elections this cycle, including strong independent political organizations such as New Florida Majority, New Virginia Majority, New Georgia Project, and Ohio Organizing Collaborative. You can donate to general pools or specify where you want funds allocated:

  • Movement Voter Project: Supporting grassroots groups reaching new voters and working towards progressive wins. Targeting races up and down the ballot in seven priority states in 2018.
  • Way to Win Action Fund: Organizing donors to ensure that key state-based groups are fully resourced to win races and build progressive power. Investing in more than 50 organizations to win 27 House, 11 Senate, and dozens of other statewide constitutional and down-ballot races nested within those races this fall.