Grass-Roots Group Launches Plan to Take Back the House of Representatives
The vision sounds grand but not implausible: Hillary Clinton commands a large voter turnout in November, while Republicans, wary of Donald Trump, shun the polls. The uneven turnout results in a big Clinton win, with down-ballot voting that also secures the Senate for Democrats. A strategic targeting of congressional races by an emboldened populace wins the House, sealing Democratic control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
So goes the pitch of attorney Stephen Schear and filmmaker Theo Schear, who just launched letstakethehouse.org in a bid to take on the toughest piece of the triumvirate puzzle: the House of Representatives.
Last week, at Los Cilantros restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., Schear and friends Meredith Sadin, Caleb Zigas and Karen Jo Koonan threw the first “house party” in what they hope will become a nationwide, grass-roots movement dedicated to partying the Democrats into power. They propose that people organize locally, inviting friends to parties to elicit donations for Democrats running in a specific set of tightly contested races and to spawn other fundraising parties. Call it “party power.”
Their group has identified 37 races nationwide that Democrats have a fighting chance to win if they can match or exceed the funding of their Republican rivals. Democratic fundraising deficits range from $60,000 to $1.9 million in the races identified. Thirty wins would take back the House, assuming Democrats hold their current seats.
Schear joked that the project’s goal to raise $20 million might seem daunting to the group of 20 or so activists that showed up for the first party, a group well below the 1 percent. But the record of people power harnessed by the Bernie Sanders campaign, which raised over $220 million, indicates that small-donation funding of $20 million spread across 37 races (approximately $540,000 each) is possible, if a public already energized by Sanders’ populist appeal buys into the idea.
Sadin, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and a former experimental analyst for the Barack Obama campaign, called money the key divider in congressional races and exhorted listeners to donate early in the campaign season. Early donations stretch people’s dollars as far as they can go, she said, enabling campaigns to lock in lower advertising rates, to plan and budget for the entire cycle, to snatch up the best hires and to build momentum early. . Strategic giving is key. It’s a waste of money, said Schear, for Democrats to give money to established legislators who already have a lock on their races. Instead, small donors should focus their funding on key swing races.
The activists’ targeting strategy takes a page from the Republican super PAC playbook, which makes a practice of targeting vulnerable seats. One of the “Let’s Take the House” candidates, Colleen Deacon, is vying to retake New York’s 24th congressional seat (Syracuse) from Republican John Katko, who benefited from Republican super PAC targeting in the midterm election. New York 2014, a super PAC funded almost exclusively by five millionaires and billionaires, bought Katko a 10-day media blitz in 2014 that secured the seat in a district that had gone solidly for Obama—with double-digit leads—in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
While the pro-Obama demographics of the 24th district indicate that Deacon could win back the seat, Katko has $1 million more in the bank in the crucial early days of the campaign. “Let’s Take the House” activists see this as a winnable race if the playing field can be leveled. There are seats like that all over the country, they say, in which Republicans have the advantage only because they have the money.
So Schear and friends are raising the call for party time.
“If we can raise enough money to counter the Republicans’ current fundraising edge in swing House races, we can party ourselves into power,” he said.Wait, before you go…
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