Angry and inspired: Democrats train new
wave of candidates
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[August 03, 2017]
By John Whitesides
ROCKVILLE, Md. (Reuters) - The 100
Democratic women who packed into a suburban Maryland conference room
recently for a one-day training on how to run for political office were
more than activists eager to battle President Donald Trump and his
The teachers, students and business leaders were also a window into the
future for a Democratic Party desperate for new blood, and into the
booming effort to turn the left's grassroots anti-Trump activism into a
new wave of Democratic officeholders.
As thousands of potential first-time candidates explore political bids
in what Democratic veterans say is an unprecedented surge of activity, a
broad but informal network of groups is beefing up efforts to train them
for the task.
The goal: turning neophytes into successful politicians who can win,
giving the party a deep and diverse bench of up-and-coming progressive
talent at all levels of government.
"This era of Trump has made everybody just want to run for office, and
it's not easy," said Josh Morrow, executive director of 314 Action,
which since its founding last year has heard from about 6,000
scientists, engineers and mathematicians exploring political runs and
trained nearly 500 of them.
"No matter how accomplished people are, they need help when they first
run," Morrow said.
The surge of interest has given dispirited Democrats, long criticized as
a top-heavy party lacking fresh faces, hope for a renaissance at the
local and state levels after repeated setbacks under President Barack
Building from the ground up, from the school board to the statehouse, is
a party priority after losing nearly 1,000 state legislative seats in
the last eight years. Republicans also control the White House, both
chambers of Congress and 33 governor's offices, the most in nearly a
"Local offices matter, and as Democrats we have sort of forgotten that,"
said Amanda Litman, a staffer on Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential
campaign who founded the group Run for Something after the 2016 election
to recruit and prepare millennials for office.
For first-timers, the initial enthusiasm for public service can quickly
give way to worried questions about the logistics of building a
fundraising list, utilizing social media and crafting a message.
"I knew I had a steep learning curve," said Thereasa Black, a lawyer and
Navy veteran running for the U.S. Congress from Maryland. She attended
the Rockville session run by Emerge America, which prepares women for
"This is a way to find people who are like-minded and going through what
you are, and can help you," she said.
A Republican spokesman said Democrats would need more than training and
fresh faces to gain ground in next year’s midterm elections given the
losses of first-time Democratic candidates in special congressional
races in Georgia and Montana earlier this year.
"The challenges that Democrats face go much deeper and come down to
fundraising and messaging," said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the
Republican National Committee, which sponsored a training program for
about 4,500 volunteer field staff and operatives last year.
[to top of second column]
Cristabel Nichols, right, gives her stump speech at the graduation
event of the Emerge Oregon training program for Democratic women to
enter politics, in Portland, Oregon, U.S. July 22, 2017. Picture
taken July 22, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
'SO MANY THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW'
Geoffrey Dittberner, 30, said he had volunteered on campaigns before
deciding to run for the Minnesota legislature, but he was still
unprepared for being a candidate before he was accepted into Run for
Something's training program.
"There were so many things I didn't know - fundraising, setting up a
campaign organization - but they made it pretty easy," he said. The
group's Slack application gave him access to a variety of resources,
from tutorials to mentors and peer networks, discussion groups and
on-call experts, he said.
Aside from new groups like 314 Action and Run for Something, about a
dozen established organizations that have long offered training to
progressive candidates also have been flooded with interest since
Emily's List, which for years has trained women candidates who favor
abortion rights, has hired five more staffers this year for a
reconstituted training unit. It already has heard from 16,000 women
interested in becoming candidates this year, compared to 920 in
Emerge America has seen applications jump by 87 percent and added
five new state chapters. The Maryland state chapter, which ran the
one-day course in Rockville, had trained 250 women by mid-year. Last
year, it trained 55.
At Emerge's Rockville session, candidates were encouraged to listen
more than they talk and delve into their own experiences to explain
what motivated them to run.
"When we tap into our own personal story, we relate better to people
in our community," Diane Fink, executive director for Emerge
Maryland, told the class. She asked them to put together a
three-minute story that explains how they got started.
While Democrats nationally have battled over their core message,
most of the training programs say they avoid telling candidates
specifically what issues to emphasize.
"First and foremost you should be talking about what matters to
voters, not to you," said veteran Democratic strategist Kelly
Dietrich, who founded the National Democratic Training Committee
last year to offer free online training for any Democrat running for
So far, more than 6,000 have signed up.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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