Now that we’re presented with two presumptive Democratic nominees, these questions are a constant part of the conversation. But here’s the catch: There is no magic candidate. Neither person will turn out droves of new voters by the virtue of their singular candidacy. Both, however, have the ability to beat Trump if they put in the work. Regardless of who’s going to be at the top of the ticket, the key to the White House for the Democratic nominee is the same: base expansion among communities of color, young people, and women. This election almost entirely depends not on what “swing” voters will do, but on how those who sat out past elections will decide to weigh in. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, knows this and is keen on new, non-Republican voters. We need to catch up and redefine how our elections are won.
Why should you listen to us? We direct Way to Win, a progressive donor and organizing network that resourced more than $50 million in 2018 and 2019 to organizations in local communities across the country to support our theory of change in states across the Sun Belt. We won more than 75% of the races we focused on, and we have receipts.
Base expansion is the first pillar of our theory of change. The narrative that Democrats need only to win back “white-working class voters” is false. Democrats must also meaningfully engage and organize underrepresented and under-resourced communities traditionally written off by the Democratic establishment to expand the electorate. This means young people, women, and people of color. There’s a rising majority of untapped progressive political power with the potential to dominate Republicans in 2020 and beyond. The key is to inspire them. It’s the reason Republicans openly employ racist voter suppression tactics. They know they’ll lose if there’s a bigger Democratic base.
Democrats can attract 5.6 million eligible nonvoting Democrats in Texas if they focus on issues that motivate Latinx communities—raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick leave, and comprehensive immigration reform—and get behind true progressives for the Senate.
Where is all this untapped potential? In the South and Southwest, where our nation continues to see massive demographic changes. Demographics don’t determine destiny, but states like Arizona and Texas are home to the fastest growing population of diverse young people in our nation’s history. Mainly comprised of Generation Z (ages 15-23), this rapidly expanding voting bloc leans overwhelmingly progressive on key social and political issues and is expected to surpass the Silent Generation, the youngest of whom are in their mid-70s, for the first time in the 2020 election. Pundits and Beltway consultants—Washington’s political organizing elite—will tell you otherwise. They want to maintain the status quo because it lines their pockets at the expense of the new rising progressive majority.
Latinx, Black, or Indigenous people make up the majority of the population throughout counties in the South and Southwest. An emphasis on diversity and bold leadership has been a winning combination in down-ballot races across the Sun Belt. In 2019, Carlos Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who opposes anti-immigration policies and rhetoric, won a seat on the Phoenix City Council. Ghazla Hasmi became the first woman Muslim state senator in Virginia. There are countless more examples, and more will come to fruition if Democrats follow the data to build a democracy that reflects our demographics instead of the current power structure. We ignore the potential political power of the Sun Belt at our peril.
Real base expansion requires long-term organizing. Take Virginia. For the first time in more than two decades, Democrats won full control of the legislature. This was no overnight success. Year-round organizing and long-term investment in local leaders and community organizations paid off; local groups like the New Virginia Majority spent more than a decade establishing trust and organizing their communities to expand the electorate. Democrats have to be in it for the long haul even if there are no apparent immediate returns. Last-minute investing in a state or a community—or parachuting in every two to four years—is ineffective and insincere.
Finally, the Democratic Party should run toward, not away from bold progressive policies. In their dual endorsement of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, The New York Times said that “any hope of restoring unity in the country will require modesty” and “a willingness to compromise.” Modesty is just another word for moderation. We don’t need to compromise on our values to win. Not only can a message of multiracial populism win back some Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest, it can also inspire a new majority of voters who overwhelmingly support progressive policies.
Moderates, Republicans, and self-serving corporate Democrats work overtime to convince people that policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for all are unreasonable and unrealistic. Public opinion contradicts them. More than 60% of U.S. voters support the Green New Deal, a majority that holds true across generations, ethnicities, gender, and socioeconomic status. Universal health care is even more popular, with 77% of Democrats supporting Medicare for all and 87% supporting a public option. Voters are inspired when they can vote for something that will directly affect their lives. Inspiration leads to mass mobilization, and bold progressive policies are the answer.
When Democrats push for bold progressive policies, they win. Florida’s Amendment 4 overwhelmingly passed in 2018, restoring the right to vote to 1.5 million people—the largest expansion of the right to vote in the modern civil rights era. Prop 206 passed in Arizona with 59% of the vote, increasing the minimum wage and increasing leave benefits for workers. And despite a lack of state mandate, San Antonio introduced paid parental leave to its employees in a traditionally deep-red state.
The stakes in 2020 are too high for Democrats to fail. Children are being locked in cages. Our planet is burning. People are forced to choose between life-saving medical procedures and putting food on the table. There were more mass shootings than days in the previous year. If Democrats fail to mobilize their actual base and embrace progressivism, the civil liberties and lives of people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and many more will be at risk for another four years. We can’t afford that.
This year’s elections present a choice for Democrats: Will we be a party driven by self-funded billionaires, Wall Street donors, and moderate incrementalism, or will we be the party of workers, diverse communities, and progressive change? We hope Democrats see the way to win is clear.
Jenifer Fernandez Ancona is the co-founder of Way to Win, the women-led progressive honor and strategy hub that moved upwards of $50M in 2018 and 2019, and serves as vice president, leading political strategy and strategic communications. Before working at Way to Win, Jenifer served as the vice president of Women Donors Network, leading the C4 activity of Women Donors Network Action. Jenifer has also served as a Senior Advisor to the Sandler-Phillips Center; a consultant at Democracy Alliance; a top legislative aide in the California State Assembly; and a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Samantha Lee Robles is a digital & communications associate at Way to Win. A native New Yorker, she comes from a family of activists who introduced her to politics and organizing at an early age. Before joining Way to Win, she worked for The Working Families Party where she gained a substantial background in politics and message building. Her passion for social media led her to work with Micheal Moore on the release of his film Fahrenheit 11/9.
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