09/15/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Here's How Progressives Plan To Beat Back The GOP Tide


WASHINGTON -- One of the problems for progressive groups this election cycle is that there isn't an Elizabeth Warren or a Tammy Baldwin on the ballot.

Fearing that core Democratic constituencies will stay home in a non-presidential election year, groups like MoveOn.org and Working America, the AFL-CIO's community affiliate, are looking for creative ways to turn out the vote -- even though the candidates on the ballot don't carry the same progressive luster as Warren and Baldwin.

"How do you encourage a discouraged electorate?" Karen Nussbaum, Working America's executive director, asked at a press briefing last week.

"It's a matter of reaching these folks," she said, explaining that the organization has set a goal of reaching 1.5 million households -- or 2.5 million voters -- by Nov. 4. The group plans to hold 25,000 face-to-face conversations with voters every week until then.

Given Working America's focus on economic issues, many of which appeal to voters across the political spectrum, the group's leaders believe they are "uniquely positioned" to reach "unexpected constituencies" like older, male and white voters. Twenty-five percent of its members identify as Republican.

As part of this effort, roughly 400 Working America canvassers will go door-to-door between now and Election Day to talk to voters, with instructions to steer the conversation away from disapproval of President Barack Obama toward more local economic issues. The group's rationale is that while white, working-class males might remain agitated with Obama, they could nonetheless be persuaded on economic grounds to vote for Democrats in key races, like Mark Schauer, who is running against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), or Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer said that the Republican Party is all about "feeding red meat to their base," and has "succeeded in agitating" voters. But his group believes that by talking with voters "about how they're going to pay their gas bills or rent, how they're going to get by," they will understand how voting for a Republican incumbent will lead to "more of the same."

"This is about taking the election down from the cacophony on television to, 'How are you going to make your mortgage payment? Here's what at stake,'" he said.

In contrast, MoveOn.org is relying on a phone-banking strategy to get out the vote. The progressive group, which was overhauled in 2012 to focus more on grassroots efforts, is targeting Republicans who have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, as well as those whom the group says would threaten funding for Medicare and Social Security.

Ilya Sheyman, MoveOn's political action director, and Ben Wikler, the group's Washington director, told The Huffington Post last week that they will focus on Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina, where vulnerable Democrats are locked in tight Senate races.

The group says it plans to make more than 5 million phone calls to voters in those states, in addition to adding field organizers to offices in the Bay Area, Chicago, New York and Seattle.

Backing up MoveOn's efforts is polling from veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who surveyed 1,000 low-propensity Democratic voters in the group's target states, such as those who did not vote in the 2010 midterms but voted in 2012 because Obama was on the ballot.

In a memo for MoveOn summarizing the poll results, Lake listed a number of messages that motivated so-called "drop-off" voters, including: "Republicans will take away a woman's right to choose and restrict access to birth control"; "Republicans will cut access to health care for 8 million people and let insurance companies refuse to cover people with preexisting conditions"; "Republicans will cut back workplace protections for women, denying them equal pay for equal work"; and "Republicans will cut funding for Head Start and K-12 education." Voters were also swayed by the idea that their state could decide which party controls the Senate.

MoveOn plans to use these messages in phone conversations with low-propensity voters, hoping to convey a sense of urgency in an otherwise dispiriting year.



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