Op­po­si­tion to Trump re­vi­tal­izes Democrats

Party rais­ing money, at­tract­ing can­di­dates to take on Repub­li­cans

The Commercial Appeal - - Nation - FREDREKA SCHOUTEN ERIN HILL

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.

SCOTT OL­SON/GETTY IM­AGES

Anti-Trump pro­test­ers gather ear­lier this year in Chicago.

JOHN BAZEMORE/AP

Demo­crat Jon Os­soff is run­ning for a Repub­li­can-held con­gres­sional seat in Ge­or­gia.

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