February 19, 2020
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo will co-chair Organizing Together 2020 along with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. | Michael Dwyer/AP Photo
Politics

Democrats launch massive battleground plan led by Obama general

Some of the party’s most powerful factions are set to join forces to counter Donald Trump’s political machine this fall.

Some of the Democratic Party’s most powerful factions are joining forces behind a massive organizing program in six battleground states — an effort aimed at minimizing the damage from a potentially protracted primary and giving the party’s eventual nominee a fighting chance against Donald Trump’s political machine.

Dubbed Organizing Together 2020, the effort was assembled by one of Barack Obama’s battleground gurus, Paul Tewes, and is hiring hundreds of staffers in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. The party’s biggest union supporters and top progressive groups, as well as several governors, are powering the initiative, which has not been previously reported. 

“We may not have a nominee until July. This could be a protracted primary,” Tewes told POLITICO, acknowledging that the battle between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and the other eight presidential candidates could leave bruised Democratic feelings along the way.

“The idea is that we should get the organizing done earlier. Let’s give people a home, foster a little unity,” he said. 

Tewes added: “We’re under no illusion that this is the salve.”

The organizing effort, which experts estimate could cost between $20 million to $60 million, would end after the nomination, at which point the nominee’s campaign would absorb the cost of staff and field offices. It is being funded by a political nonprofit called the Strategic Victory Fund, whose donors are anonymous.

On Friday, the group planned to announce its national co-chairs: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Among the 14 groups backing it are the National Education Association; Service Employees International Union; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Indivisible and Color for Change.

Organizing Together’s formation marks the further rise of Democratic shadow groups that are stepping in to fill the gaps of an underfunded national party to blunt the time, money and advertising advantages of Trump.

The group’s activities would dovetail with other get-out-the-vote organizations such as For Our Future and the national party. It would also complement Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s proposed $500 million Democratic turnout campaign — led by Tewes’ former Obama campaign colleague Mitch Stewart — that the billionaire promised to put into effect even if he doesn’t win the nomination. 

Also in the mix: the nonprofit group Acronym and an affiliated PAC, which is spending tens of millions on a digital advertising push guided by Obama adviser and 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe.

“It’s filling a gap so it’s not simply a candidate-centered effort,” said Color of Change spokesperson Rashad Robinson. “All the things that are unsexy about elections, if they don’t happen, and if you aren’t building that infrastructure, you’re going to face big challenges.”

Buzz around the group has centered on its caliber of early hires. Tewes recruited from a pool of operatives who worked on 2020 campaigns and allied organizations. They include Jane Slusser (formerly the national organizing director for Tom Steyer’s Need to Impeach group); Emmy Ruiz and Anatole Jenkins (of Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign); Geoff Burgan (from Beto O’Rourke’s presidential and Andrew Gillum’s Florida gubernatorial campaigns); former Obama for Florida chief Ashley Walker; For Our Future’s Rich Kotchmar and Amanda Brown Lierman (from the women’s outreach group Supermajority).

Tewes said Organizing Together is agnostic about who emerges from the primary. This effort is about beating Trump.

“We don’t care who you’re with in the primary,” he said. “We don’t care if you’re not with anyone in the primary. Just come on in.”

The group will seek to open offices in smaller and mid-size cities, eventually branching into rural areas. Its leaders will adapt its strategy to each state’s circumstances. In Wisconsin, Tewes said, they’ll emphasize digital-based organizing because it’s a need in the state. But in Arizona, still an emerging battleground, they’ll emphasize training for workers who don’t have as much experience in getting out the vote in a presidential campaign.

Tewes said the effort is relatively simple: give like-minded progressives and Democrats a place to go to support their efforts to register, talk to and turn out voters.

“Organizing is organizing. There’s no magic science to it. You get going. You get going early. You work out the kinks as you go along. And you get people feeling good about their role,” Tewes said. “I’ll take the art over the science any day.”

The group is designed to supplement the DNC and groups like For Our Future, which has been knocking on doors in key states continuously since 2016 and is already organizing voters for 2020.

But Justin Myers, the group’s chief executive, said Democrats need more organizers, infrastructure, volunteers, and votes to take out Trump. “Organizing Together 2020 will play a critical role in ensuring that Democrats have the ground game we need to win on issues and in elections,” he said.

Though the primary could leave some with hard feelings — especially if it drags on — Organizing Together thinks it can help.

“Defeating Donald Trump and all his agenda,” Tewes said, “is a great way to heal.”

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