Forget giant national organizations that hire field organizers all over the country. Forget the sprawling 2020 presidential campaigns that are going to employ thousands of field staff in contested states. Forget the way we’ve always organized. It’s time for something new.
At Run for Something, the organization I co-founded with Amanda Litman, over 18,000 people across the country have told us they want to run for office. We’ve recruited in every single state, and we just endorsed our 500th candidate. By the end of this year we’ll endorse between 750 and 1,000.
These numbers are unprecedented and that’s not just because our organization is a little more than a year old. A candidate recruitment and support effort at this scale and with this kind of reach is unlike anything we’ve seen before in politics. And we’re convinced it’s the best way Democrats can build for the future.
Our theory of change is simple: build the bench and increase turnout by running great candidates. We need to run them locally and we need to run them everywhere.
During the 2017 cycle in Virginia, our endorsees proved that running candidates for office in districts we don’t usually contest, increases voter turnout for everyone on the ballot.
Let’s play this out on a broader scale. There are more than 500,000 elected offices across the United States. If you look at previous state legislative elections, about 40 percent go uncontested in the general election year-to-year. That means about 200,000 elected offices aren’t contested. Let’s say around half of those uncontested seats are held by Republicans. That means there are at least 100,000 seats where we need to recruit Democrats to run.
We already know the best way for a campaign to get someone to come out and vote is to have a one-on-one conversation with that potential voter. If we find a candidate in every single one of those races, and those candidates average about 1,000 door knocks a piece (an RFS candidate averages around 3,000 so we’re being conservative here), we are talking about 100 million doors knocked.
The areas where Democrats have a hard time fielding candidates are in Republican strongholds — places like Georgia and Texas, for example. Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards and former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America is fond of saying that Texas “is not a red state, it’s a non-voting state.” Imagine what extremely motivated, passionate candidates who know their communities well could do to voter turnout by knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors across a state like Texas. We did imagine it, and it’s why we founded Run for Something.
If we plan to flip states like Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida we can’t just look to the top of the ticket anymore. We need to start getting serious about recruiting and supporting candidates who are running for state and local office. This may not be the most lucrative path for some political consultants in the short term, but if we’re serious about party building it’s a crucial undertaking.
From where we sit, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s not just one of many options we should carefully consider. This is what we started doing in 2017, and it’s a necessary investment for us to make as a party for 2020. If we don’t, we’re looking at another four years of Donald Trump and another 10 years of gerrymandered districts that make it almost impossible for Democrats to win.
Ross Morales Rocketto is the co-founder of Run for Something.