Dems Launching New State Push

By John Celock

Democrats are launching a new push this week in an effort to flip state legislative chambers nationally back to their side.

Democratic field organizers from across the country are converging on Washington starting Wednesday for a three-day training program focused on a new data program aimed at pulling out Democratic voters this year. The initiative, being run by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and known as the Grassroots Victory Program, aims to harness Democratic voters for the state legislative races much the same way President Barack Obama’s campaign used data to drive the vote in 2012.

“Fight this off year tide. Particularly at the state legislative level we can work with our candidates to create relationship with our voters,” DLCC national field director David Griggs told The Celock Report. “You can spend all the money you want on mail but there is no substitute for candidates creating relationships with voters.”

The DLCC will be utilizing data collected on voters, along with building upon best practices used by other campaigns to help train the organizers on how to micro-target voters. This would be used to better connect candidates and their campaigns with voters in order to gauge interests and bring them to the polls in November.

Among the ways the DLCC is planning to train organizers is how to utilize information from the data to help develop and target campaign messages, and tracking voters based on past voting habits. The data can be targeted to a specific state and into the district level, with the DLCC noting that what is working in Maine will not necessarily work in Ohio.

“One of the cool things we are doing with this program is we’re working with states with different backgrounds,” Griggs said.

He noted that while some of the states represented at this week’s training session include Michigan and Ohio, where competitive races are forming to flip GOP-controlled legislative chambers, other states that wouldn’t first come to mind are also on the list, including GOP-heavy Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming.

During the training session, DLCC trainers will work with the organizers to craft draft field programs for the state and individual districts utilizing data collected by the group. Mari Borden, who is running the program for the DLCC, told The Celock Report that the program would also provide a series of best practices for voter outreach used across the country that can be tailored to individual states, along with providing templates of materials individual candidates can then customize to their races. Borden expects 150 organizers to attend this week.

The DLCC program comes as Democrats nationally continue to put more attention to the state legislative level. Republicans have long targeted state legislative seats in order to control state level policies including congressional redistricting, health care, gun control and taxation. Democrats have been looking back to the state legislative level following national opposition to a series of GOP backed state legislation including abortion restrictions, voter identification laws and changes to the tax structure.

“We want to have some balance in the legislatures and state government and prioritize job creation and good health care rather than focusing on the far right issues that the GOP has a fetish about,” DLCC executive director Michael Sargeant told The Celock Report.

Republicans say that they think Democrats are just trying to play catch-up. Republican State Leadership Committee spokeswoman Jill Bader told The Celock Report that the RSLC has been utilizing data for state legislative field operations and that has helped give the GOP control in a number of state legislative chambers. The RSLC program has included training for state level organizers, with a group attending a session in Washington earlier this year and other sessions being held in the states.

“It’s obvious they know they have to play catch up. We have an overwhelming majority of state level elected officials as Republican,” she said. “We have already been doing what our counterparts are doing. We have GOP program that we train our elected officials and their staffs on.”

The RSLC program has included Washington and state based training sessions. Bader noted that with Republicans doing well in recent special elections for state legislative seats, the RSLC is confident for this cycle.

North Dakota state Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) told The Celock Report that it is worthwhile to send his organizers to Washington. He said that he has 16 Republican held seats he is looking to make a play in this year and the races will be close.

“With so many seats in play, we hope these field organizers will make the difference in districts where the margins will be a couple of hundred of votes,” Schneider said. “We think it will be hard fought campaign for control of the Legislature.”

Schneider noted that while his state has been in contact with the DLCC in the past, this is one of their first big projects with them. He said that he hopes the organizers can use the training to identify new voters to target this year.

The DLCC said that a pilot version of the program used in 2012 helped 29 candidates win by less than 500 votes.

While this week’s program lasts only three days in Washington, the DLCC said they plan to work with organizers back in their states if they cannot make it to the capital. Griggs noted that the DLCC is open to working with any state party who is interested in the program for their legislative candidates.

Sargeant said he sees an increased focus on field organizing, including data focused targeting being able to help Democrats nationally for state legislative seats this year. He noted it is a way to combat what could come from the GOP in terms of financial help for legislative candidates.

“We see this strategy as being a real lynchpin to hold on to majorities and gain majorities this cycle,” he said. “There is no substitute to real community organizing and candidates being able to talk to their neighbors. Despite the efforts of the Koch brothers and the Republicans. This is a real strong program to combat it.”