Opposition to Trump revitalizes Democrats
Party raising money, attracting candidates to take on Republicans
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has occupied the White House for less than three months, but his administration has fueled an early boom in Democratic fundraising and activism, according to liberal groups at the forefront of upcoming political fights.
ActBlue, an online fundraising conduit for Democratic candidates and causes, has processed more than $111 million in contributions during the first three months of 2017, more than four times the amount it handled during the comparable period in the 2016 election cycle.
Among the Democrats raising money through ActBlue: Jon Ossoff, a firsttime congressional candidate in Georgia vying for a Republican-held House seat in Tuesday’s special election. Ossoff, running on a “Make Trump Furious” theme, has raised $8.3 million — a staggering number for a House race — in the battle for a seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“On the left, our grass roots are stepping up in lots of quantifiable and meaningful ways,” Erin Hill, ActBlue’s executive director, told USA TODAY. “People are putting their money where their mouths are. People are running for office.”
At EMILY’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, nearly 11,000 women have reached out since Election Day, saying they want to run for office, said Vanessa Cardenas, the group’s director of strategic communications. By comparison, about 920 women took that step during the two-year 2016 election cycle, EMILY’s List officials say.
The group has nearly doubled its recruiting and training budget to $6 million and will run training sessions to help prepare female candidates in 10 states through June. It’s joining forces with the League of Conservation Voters later this month to train about 200 prospective candidates who will converge on Washington for the April 29 People’s Climate March.
“A wave of women is stepping up and saying, ‘I want my voice at the table, and I’m no longer going to doubt that I can do this if other people can get elected who are less qualified,’ ” Cardenas said. “Women are just resisting.”
Virginia as Ground Zero
Some groups are hoping to channel activists’ anti-Trump energy into upcoming contests in Virginia, where the entire 100-member House of Delegates is up for election this November.
Republicans have a 66-34 majority in the House. But Virginia was the only Southern state Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential race, raising Democratic hopes of inroads in the Old Dominion.
Democrats are on track to field candidates in at least 83 districts this year, up from 56 in 2015, according to Carolyn Fiddler of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on legislative races.
Among them: Schuyler VanValkenburg, a 34-year-old high school government teacher who is vying for an open seat held for five terms by a Republican.
VanValkenburg said his bid marks the first time in a decade that Democrats have fielded a candidate for the suburban Richmond district. And it’s drawing activists’ attention as one of 17 Republican-held districts captured last year by Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
“There’s been a lot of momentum,” said VanValkenburg, who has collected donations from as far away as Minnesota and New Mexico.
A new group, Flippable — founded the day after Trump’s win by Clinton campaign staffers in Ohio — is working to drive donations and volunteers from around the country to competitive down-ballot races. Last week, the group launched a political action committee aimed at raising $125,000 by mid-June to help Virginia Democratic candidates viewed as likely to “flip” Republican seats. It has highlighted 20 races, including VanValkenburg’s. Primaries are June 13. Earlier this year, Flippable directed $130,000 in contributions to help Democrat Stephanie Hansen win a special election to the Delaware Senate.
Flippable’s CEO, Catherine Vaughan, said she worried that Democratic activism would begin to wane in the months after the election, but that hasn’t happened. Flippable’s email list has grown from 600 late last year to 50,000 today.
“We’ve seen consistent engagement,” she said.
The early fundraising surge by Democratic groups does not mean their party will have a financial advantage over Republicans, who control the White House, Congress and 33 governors’ mansions.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for instance, announced Friday that it had raised nearly $31 million between Jan. 1 and March 31 — blowing past the $19.7 million the committee collected at this point in the 2016 election cycle.
The haul broke the committee’s records for early cash and online fundraising.
But the National Republican Congressional Committee, the fundraising arm for House Republicans, collected even more: $35.9 million.
Anti-Trump protesters gather earlier this year in Chicago.
Democrat Jon Ossoff is running for a Republican-held congressional seat in Georgia.