Part 2 of a 3 part series. Part 1(“What the fuck happened?”) is an explanation of what happened during the election and a bibliography. Part 3 (“What the fuck do we do now?”) covers ideas for our planning the 2017–2018 cycle. These three essays are written for my volunteers in the California Away Team: volunteers that live in safe Democratic areas and spend personal time and money to travel to battleground states and volunteer directly for campaigns that are competitive.
TLDR; During the 2016 election cycle our 40 volunteers made 10 trips to Sacramento and Reno. 3,343 doors knocked on, 44 voters registered, roughly 759 hours of volunteer time given. We won the state of Nevada’s electoral votes for the Democrats, helped elect a new US Senator (Catherine Cortez Masto NV), a member of Congress (Rep. Ami Bera CA-07), a Nevada state Assembly member by 38 votes (Skip Daly NV-31). We also passed a ballot initiative that closed the background check gun sale loophole in Nevada. Oh, and legal weed was on the ballot and passed in both CA and NV.
After speaking at length with my two election-savvy mentors (Shayna Englin and Shara Kaplin) and studying polling, fundraising, and previous years election results, we adopted two areas: California’s 7th Congressional district (Rep. Ami Bera vs. Sheriff Scott Jones), in Sacramento’s suburbs, and Washoe County Nevada. The city of Reno, in Washoe County, is one of two key battlegrounds that determines who wins the Presidency in any normal year.
I agonized over whether we should go to California’s 10th District (Jeff Denham vs. Michael Eggman), but history suggested that it wasn’t going to be close enough that our little contribution would push it blue.
Boy was I wrong. That race was close. While Ami Bera’s race was closer, it turns out Jeff Denham was weaker than he looked, and Michael Eggman stronger. The race was only decided by 9,000 votes out of a total of 200,000 that were cast.
By the numbers
TLDR; 10 trips to Sacramento and Reno, 3,343 doors knocked on, 44 voters registered, roughly 759 hours of volunteer time (including travel to Sacramento).
Sacramento: A total of 14 volunteers (some went more than once) made 6 day trips to Sacramento, all on Sundays from June through the weekend before Election Day. We typically arrived about noon, got our briefing from the Ami Bera campaign staff, and then went out to pound pavement. We canvassed for voter id, name/address checking, and new voter registration early in the cycle. Closer to Election Day we did Get Out The Vote work for people that didn’t early vote. We ended up volunteering a total of 231 hours, knocked on 749 doors and probably registered 4 voters. We may have registered a few more before I started keeping good count, but it wasn’t many more.
Generally a canvasser or a canvassing pair team would hit about 90 doors in a day. Sometimes you get more, sometimes less, but that seemed about average.
Reno: A total of 26 volunteers made 4 weekend long trips to Reno from August through Election Day. I estimate we spent a total of 67 hours on the ground in Reno (528 for the whole team), knocked on 2,594 doors, and registered 40 voters. Reno is a little more spread out, so our total daily volume is less. Team members: Shabbir Safdar, Carolyn Cracraft, Carolyn Chitty, Matt Williams, Gene Salazar (went on every trip!), Penny Jennings, Alan Grosenheider, Jennifer Granick, Jen Delano Cohen, Jessica Tashker, Daniel Stokes, Joe Brilliant, Emma Dinkelspiel, Greg Gomes, Jessica Cramer, Imran Khan, Carter Sanders, Tom Fielder, Thomas Fuchs, Feleceia Fuchs. (And I thank Joe Russell for lending us his AWD car to get home over Donner Pass when a snowstorm made coming home over Donner Pass nearly impossible.)
Not included in our totals were these efforts:
New Hampshire: Our work inspired a college friend of mine, Mike Rowan, to take a canvassing team from safely blue Massachusetts to help out in New Hampshire for a day.
Pennsylvania: My friend Anastasia Walsh and her friend Marcia Stoner left safely Democratic Maryland and took a friend and went canvassing in Pennsylvania.
Voter Protection Vegas and Reno: This is a distinctly non-partisan gig. Three of our volunteers did voter protection work on Election Day in Vegas and Reno. They stood up from open to close all day at a polling place and helped voters of any political persuasion understand their right to vote and made sure they got to submit a countable ballot. In Vegas Steve Weiss was personally involved with a rogue Trump poll watcher who attempted to intimidate election staff. Team members: Steve Weiss, Hope Schmeltzer, and Bruce Nye.
TLDR; We got elected: a member of Congress (CA-07), a US Senator (NV), and a Nevada State Assembly member by 38 (!)votes. We helped pass a Nevada ballot initiative that closed the loophole that lets you buy a gun without a background check. We secured Nevada’s 6 electoral votes for the Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a normal election year, those 6 would have decided the White House. Legal weed, my favorite turnout marketing phrase, passed in both CA and NV.
In New Hampshire, where California Away Team member Michael Rowantook a group from safely blue Massachusetts to canvas in New Hampshire, Republican US Senator Kelly Ayotte lost to Democrat Maggie Hassan by 743 votes (!). That Senate seat flipped to blue this year because thousands of volunteers like Mike got off their ass!
Sacramento (CA-07): On the night the polls closed, Rep. Ami Bera (D) had an 1,800 vote lead out of a total of 200,000 votes cast. I don’t need to tell you how terrifying that was. There were still 200,000 votes in Sacramento County left to count, and about half of them would fall into the Seventh Congressional district and would take days to complete. Finally on November 18th, as Ami Bera’s lead pulled out to about 4,800 votes, his Republican challenger Scott Jones conceded there weren’t enough votes left for him to catch up. As of now the Secretary of State puts Bera’s lead at 5,825 of about 300,000 total votes cast. 1.9% is the margin of win.
Why did this district matter? These two candidates were nothing alike. Bera is pro-choice, pro-gun-background-checks, pro-fight-climate-change, pro-Obamacare, pro-gay-marriage, etc. His opponent Jones is anti-choice, anti-any-kind-of-gun-control, anti-climate-change, anti-Obamacare, anti-gay-marriage, etc.
Having another voice in Washington on the right side of those issues is so important, and this race was very, very close. We’ll be back.
The Nevada Secretary of State does great maps, so I’m telling this story partly in screenshots from their website. Our work in Reno was simply to turn out any Democratic voter. What you see below is a bunch of success that comes from that. Turning out a progressive voter pays dividends all the way down the ticket. It’s like we were volunteering for 5 campaigns simultaneously.
Presidential: Yay! But we did our job…
How does Nevada work? Reno and Las Vegas vote Democratic and the rest of the state votes Republican. There are more people in the two cities than in the rest of the state, but voter suppression efforts diminish their ability to all get out and vote. This map shows how you win Nevada’s 6 electoral votes:
There are about 215,000 votes in Washoe County (Reno) and 720,000 votes in Clark County (Vegas) and 100,000 or so votes in the ruruals. Once Vegas voted, they gave the Democrats an 82,000 vote edge, but the rest of the state clawed back about 50,000 of those because the rural areas had lots of Trump voters.
It always comes down to Reno. This is why I go to Reno every election. All it takes to lose Nevada is for Democrats to get lazy in Reno/Washoe County. We were not lazy but it was incredibly close. We were a small patrol in an army of thousands. Thousands of volunteers turned out, including hundreds and hundreds of them from California. Out of about 215,000 possible votes in Washoe, we won the county by a mere 2,621 votes. Our final lead in the state was about 27,000 votes.
US Senate: Yay!
Catherine Cortez Masto (D) was, by most measures, a spectacular Attorney General in Nevada. Suing banks for illegal foreclosures, fighting trafficking of women, she was a great consumer advocate. When she decided to run for the seat vacated by retiring Democrat Harry Reid, the Republican money machine kicked in. By Election Day the Koch Brothers and other allies had dumped $40 million in negative television and direct mail advertising against her. Her reputation was damaged enough that even Democrats I canvassed would ask me, “How can they say she’s the worst Attorney General in the history of the state?” “I dunno man, $40 million dollars in negative ads could make Mother Teresa look like an asshole, don’t ya think?”
All that negative advertising worked well enough that she lost Washoe County by about 1,800 votes. To think of it another way, Hillary won Washoe County by about 2,500 votes. So Catherine Cortez Masto was more unpopular than Hillary in Washoe County. That doesn’t make any sense, she’s been a bipartisan attorney general not plagued by any major scandal. It was purely negative smear campaigning.
Vegas provided enough votes for her to win though. We kept Washoe County from draining too many Vegas votes and we sent another Democratic Senator to Washington from Nevada.
Nevada’s Second Congressional District (sad trombone)
This is the only House seat that covers Washoe County, and it wasn’t particularly close. Chip Evans (D) was challenging incumbent Mark Amodei (R) who kept his seat with a 67,000 vote lead out of 315,000 votes cast.
Nevada State Assembly Districts 24, 27, 30, and 31: Yay!
With the exception of District 31, these were all Democratic incumbents. The 31st district, however, was held by Republican Jill Dickson. Rep. Dickson (R) is against increasing taxes to pay for schools, doesn’t think Nevada should fund Medicaid-based healthcare because its too expensive, doesn’t believe in raising the minimum wage, brags about carrying her concealed firearm (and believes more people should), and thinks there’s a voter fraud problem that needs to be solved in Nevada. It was an important that she be defeated.
Our work, along with the work of hundreds of Democrats in Reno allowed Democrat Richard “Skip” Daly to prevail by 38 votes.
You heard me, 38 votes out of about 30,000 was the win margin. Those 40 people we registered in Reno on those trips? That could have been the difference. The thousands we canvassed to turn out to vote? That could have been the difference. We and the thousands of volunteers we worked alongside in Washoe County, flipped a seat from red to blue by 38 votes.
Ballot question 1: Closing the background check loophole (Yay!)
STATE QUESTION NO.1
Shall Chapter 202 of the Nevada Revised Statutes be amended to prohibit, except in certain circumstances, a person from selling or transferring a firearm to another person unless a federally-licensed dealer first conducts a federal background check on the potential buyer or transferee?
There is no federal requirement to run a background check on someone buying a firearm. You can:
- have a restraining order filed by your abused spouse and still buy a firearm;
- be on a terrorist watch list and still buy a firearm;
- have a history of violent mental illness and still buy a firearm.
All without a required background check. Only eight states have passed restrictions that require checks that implement some common sense background checks before you buy a firearm. Or lots of firearms.
This was certain to be controversial, as it is in every state that’s passed a version of it (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State). But it got qualified for the ballot and so it was going to be an opportunity to make Nevada and it’s California neighbor a little safer.
As you would expect, the question was popular in Clark County (Las Vegas) and it won there by 100,000 votes. The question was unpopular in the rural areas of Nevada, and despite a surprising loss in Reno (18,000 votes short), it passed statewide.
You, knocking on doors in Nevada, helped change the gun laws to make Nevada and California safer.
State question no. 2
Shall the Nevada Revised Statutes be amended to allow a person, 21 years old or older, to purchase, cultivate, possess, or consume a certain amount of marijuana or concentrated marijuana, as well as manufacture, possess, use, transport, purchase, distribute, or sell marijuana paraphernalia; impose a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale sales of marijuana; require the regulation and licensing of marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, distributors, suppliers, and retailers; and provide for certain criminal penalties?
There was legal weed on the ballot in California this cycle too.
Anyone who canvassed with me knew the mantra I would say to people whenever they said they weren’t into politics, or didn’t want to register, hated both Clinton and Trump, etc. I would say, “Legal weed is on the ballot.” Most of the time, I could get that person to register to vote as a result.
Legal weed isn’t just fun, it’s about removing a cause of unfair incarceration for minorities. It passed in both California and Nevada.
In New Hampshire, where California Away Team Member Mike Rowan took a group to canvas, Maggie Hassan (D) beat incumbent Kelly Ayotte and flipped a Republican US Senate seat to the Democrats. 700,000 votes were cast in one of the most contentious elections in the Senate this cycle. As of Nov. 29th, Maggie Hassan (D) has beaten incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte by a mere 743 votes.
743. That’s a tiny number. Pretty much anything can be credited or blamed for a 743 vote win (or loss). I’m calling Mike Rowan’s canvassing team, along with the thousands of other volunteers, a part of that win.
Understand that our tiny force is exactly that, a tiny force. But along with all the other volunteers just like us, we made a huge difference, and as you can see, sometimes it’s just a day or two of volunteering that can dramatically change the outcome of an election.
I am so very very proud of each of our volunteers.