December 2017: Finding a Path to Victory.

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Monday, December 3

Life intervenes again. I’ve been sidelined by a nasty eye infection that has made it impossible to go out and talk to people and difficult to read and write. It should clear up in about ten days, says the doctor. Ten days? An election can be lost in far less time than that!

Still, I’ve been heartened by very generous donations totaling over $2,000 already, and this has come just from my email list and website. This is a sign, I believe, that many citizens have been energized by the last year of life under Trump, and are eager to fight back at every level of politics. Just as I’ve been galvanized into taking on this seemingly impossible task of running as a progressive candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives in a conservative district, others have been unusually supportive of me.  In a typical year, a longshot bid like mine would not gain much traction. I sense that this year we all understand the wisdom that we need to transform our politics from the grass roots up. We all get it that there is in fact a direct if modest link between capturing the 58th House District for progressives and our essential project of saving the world from Trumpism. We understand that the most profound change, the most authentic and lasting change, must come from precisely the precincts and districts where it seems most out of reach.

This, then, is the challenge of this early phase of the campaign: How can I best hear from and speak to voters captured by Trumpism, voters who have long since tuned Democrats out, or have become disengaged from politics generally? This is a twofold challenge: first is the messaging (what to say and how to say it) and second is tactics (how to identify and reach the voters most likely to vote for me.)

Here is my current thinking on these two challenges:  I have purchased (thank you, donors!) and will master a complex piece of software from the Democratic Party, called VoteBuilder. This database includes records of all the registered voters in the 58th House District, along with algorithmic ratings of how likely they may be to vote Democratic. Using this data, it is theoretically possible to calculate how many votes are needed to win the election, and where those votes might be found. There are approximately 10,000 registered Democrats in the district, 15,000 registered Independents, and 20,000 registered Republicans. Ah, you think, no wonder this seat has not been seriously contested by a Democrat in several generations. But this information is not discouraging, because it is reality that must be recognized and accepted: to win, I truly will have to win conservative-leaning voters.

Which brings me to the second part of the challenge: What can I possibly say to Republican-leaning Independents – and even registered Republicans who are not so hard core that they would never vote Democratic – to win their votes? It is obvious that I can’t criticize their past voting choices. I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about Trump. A lot of the language that seems compelling to me (“opportunity,” “equality,” “public lands”) might be heard as code words instantly tagging me to Fox news viewers as a liberal foe. I don’t yet know the answer to the question of how to speak as a progressive to conservative voters in the 58th, so I am undertaking a series of meetings with folks across the district to try to figure it out. I’ll be traveling to Cortez and Montrose to meet with Democrats and ask them what they think their conservative friends and neighbors might be most receptive to. I’ve got a few meetings scheduled with small groups of voters where I can pose the same question.

This path to victory is exceedingly narrow: I must be authentically myself, a progressive, because there’s no value in running to the center, even if it were possible to con anyone into believing that I’m a centrist. And I must, at the same time, find a way to win the confidence of voters disinclined to support a progressive.

Sounds impossible, right?

Well, maybe not, because although the demographics of the district are daunting it’s easy to forget that the objective is to capture just 50 percent plus one of the votes cast. Of course, there are plenty of strong conservatives who will never consider voting for me. But there are also plenty of people who have voted for conservatives in the past who might swing over to my side. They are the target.

In the last election, about 62 percent of the roughly 45,000 registered voters in the district cast a ballot for the office for State Representative. We can assume turnout this year may be both higher and more Democratic — higher because in 2016 Representative Don Coram ran unopposed and because halfway through Trump’s first term Democratic voters will be unusually energized. Given these factors, turnout next year could reach as much as 70 percent, or 31,500 voters. That means I would need about 15,750 votes to win.   So, let’s assume  I get 80 percent of Dems  for about 8,000 votes. That means I would need to pick up another 8,000 votes from the pool of 15,000 Independents plus 25,000 Republicans in the district.

Can a Democrat win roughly 20 percent from the pool of registered Independents and Republicans in the district?

The answer, I think, is yes, if:

(1) In the next month or two I find a message that will resonate with potential swing voters;

(2) I follow a disciplined strategy to identify and reach out to enough of the Republican-leaning voters likeliest to swing Democratic to win over at least 8,000 of them.

(3) I am able to fire up the Democratic base and motivate potential donors and volunteers to help with the effort;

(4) I give it all I’ve got for the next 11 months; and

(5) I can build a campaign with the resources to mount an effective get-out-the vote effort by November.

And, yes, in addition to all of that, it will take a Democratic wave. Then again, a wave won’t happen by itself. A wave is formed by precisely the sort of effort I’m envisioning, replicated by thousands of other progressive candidates across the country who have been propelled into action much as I have been. If I do my part in HD 58, that should help a Democrat win the race for Congress in the Third Congressional District, replacing the deeply regressive back-bencher Scott Tipton, and help a Democrat win the Colorado governor’s race, too.

It won’t be easy to turn the tide of American politics back to sanity, but we have no alternative but to try.

Friday, December 15

My eyes are only just now starting to get better.  Ophthalmologist (my fourth appointment in just over two weeks) says it’s the worst eye infection he’s seen this season. Every couple of years, an adenovirus goes around. He’s seen a few this year, but mine was the worst. Pain is gone, but vision is still very bad.

But what’s that compared to Doug Jones’s miraculous win in Alabama!  Combined with what happened in Virginia, the path to victory becomes clearer. The Democratic wave is building, no doubt about it. Doug Jones proved that the candidate can and must be his authentic self, namely a progressive Democrat, in even the most conservative areas. I embrace Jones’s strategy: let’s find the common ground by focusing on the kitchen-table issues of good jobs at good wages, access to properly funded education and access to affordable healthcare, and let’s stop demonizing the political opposition. Let’s put the wedge issues that divide us on the back burner because we can’t keep beating each other up over them. In my district, outreach to the Latino and Native American communities is essential. A coalition of invigorated base Democrats plus carefully identified swing voters can be built.

My first campaign events start tomorrow with attendance at a Montrose County Democratic Party meet and greet for me and gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg. That evening, my friends Gus and Torie Jarvis are hosting a house party for me in Montrose. On Monday, the Montezuma County Democrats are hosting a meet and greet for me in Cortez.

I feel like I’m being belted into a roller coaster and we are just starting to inch up the first huge hill.

Wednesday, December 20

My feet are wet. I’ve now had three meetings with Democrats in Montrose and Cortez, following up on my first meeting with Indivisible activists in Ridgway back on Dec. 5.  It’s been a steep learning curve, but I feel good about where I am.  I’m more comfortable talking about who I am, why I’m running for office, tying the national political climate to local issues, explaining how I think a blue victory in the bright red HD 58 is possible, and asking for help.

Some of the people I’ve just met already went online to my website and donated money by way of Act Blue. I’m up to $4000 raised, which is incredible considering I haven’t begun any serious fundraising. (If I can raise enough, we can fund a legitimate ground game operation!) Others have offered to help me by hosting a house party so I can expand the network. I’ve got one set up in Montrose for Jan. 13.  (Thank you, Anne and Greg!)

I also did an interview with reporter Jim Mimiaga of The Cortez Journal, and he put me through my paces on issues. I was pleased that I felt very comfortable talking about local issues, even if I sometimes had to say, “That’s something I need to learn more about.” But generally, my years as a reporter in this district have prepared me for talking coherently about public lands management, for example, and Colorado tax policy.

I’m polishing some good “stump” lines: “Southwestern Colorado is as far from Denver as you can get and still be in the state, which is why we don’t think about state government very much and they don’t think much about us. That makes political sense because the vast majority of voters are in the Denver metro area. But we can’t let Denver continue to ignore rural and small-town Colorado.  It’s not good for them or for us for the state to be divided into prosperous counties and counties left behind.”

And, “There’s no reason you should be paying two or three times more for the same exact health insurance policy that you could buy affordably if you lived in Denver.”

And, “Democrats have been ignoring rural and small-town America, and we haven’t seriously campaigned in rural counties in a generation or two. We’ve just let the Republicans have rural voters by appealing to cultural conservatism on social issues. But we can win a bunch of these rural voters back if we talk to them about Democratic policies and values, because our policies and values will be so much better for them economically.”

And the well-worn but indispensable: “We have to find the common ground with our conservative-leaning friends and neighbors and move forward on the big issues we agree on: affordable health care, adequate funding for education, and good jobs at good wages; state investment in struggling counties, and collaborative management by all of the stakeholders of public lands. On the areas where we disagree we need to find compromise where we can, and where it’s not possible to compromise, we need to respect each other’s principles and agree to live with our differences instead of going to political war over them.”

I need to become crisper in my presentation, more succinct, and save a bunch of what I have to say for my answers to questions instead of trying to fit it all in in my opening remarks. I’m working hard to master this subtle art of political persuasion.

I’ve been thinking that for most people, most of the time, politics is background music. It’s always there, and it affects our daily lives and our mood. We don’t always recognize how completely the music envelopes us, but if it is upbeat and harmonious we feel better than we do when it is somber or dissonant. Sometimes, the music is so obnoxious that a bunch of us can’t ignore it, and that’s where we are today. Trump political chaos makes it difficult for us to focus on what we really care about: our families, our friends, our jobs, our environment, our culture. So, we are rising up to push back, hard.

There is a blue tsunami forming under the sea. I am determined to ensure it sweeps over even remote, achingly beautiful, deeply distressed Southwestern Colorado.

Happy holidays everyone.  See you in the New Year!