Notes from the Field—August 2018
With 94 Days to Go, Rising Up from the Ashes…
Nestled in the green rolling hills outside of Philadelphia is the town of Phoenixville — a village named after the mythical bird who rises up from the ashes. This Saturday morning it’s not a bird, but the Democratic Party, that is on the rise.
These are the hills that stood witness to some of the most pivotal moments of the Revolutionary War, including Valley Forge. They are about to witness another important chapter in the ongoing journey of our Republic: the midterm elections of 2018.
Melissa Shusterman is running for House District 157 in Pennsylvania. Her headquarters is packed with friends and neighbors who have come to tear down the walls between us by knocking on doors. The canvass kickoff begins with remarks from Chrissy Houlahan, who is running for Congress in PA-6. I have the honor to introduce Melissa.
Melissa quickly brings up other candidates who are running in the area. Positive energy builds on positive energy. For all the candidates present, there is a lot more purpose than ego in this room. People all over this part of Pennsylvania are coming together. We are acting like a Party with a high sense of national purpose. They believe it, and I believe it: we are going to Win Back Pennsylvania and save our democracy.
The gender makeup of the room isn’t lost on anyone. For several years now, Pennsylvania has been represented in Congress and statewide exclusively by men. All 18 congressional districts. No woman in the Commonwealth has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate or occupied the Governor’s mansion. The gender shut-out changed with the state’s primaries in May, when three Democratic women won their primaries in districts that Hillary Clinton won by big margins. But it could easily be more: Houlahan’s district, PA-6, currently represented by Rep. Ryan Costello, is one of the most flippable districts in the country.
At the state house level, Democrats only need to flip 20 seats in order to free the Pennsylvania House from Republican control. And given the 10 to 15 point swing across the country in special elections, we just might do it.
Not long ago this state produced moderate Republicans like Tom Ridge, Dick Thornburg, and Arlen Specter. But those days are gone. Today, most Republicans in Pennsylvania’s legislature have embraced Trump — some even claim to have been Trump before Trump. It’s a strategy with significant risks: The last man who did so lost to Connor Lamb in a special election for Congress a few months back.
A new day is fast approaching. Lisa, a Chester County Democratic dynamo and activist, shouts out, “94 days to go!”
Anita, a volunteer in her mid-60s, pulls me aside to ask if our press will ever stop themselves from promoting the current President as entertainment. She wonders if the fairness doctrine might ever be restored to our political journalism. I wonder, too.
We travel to the town of Ambler in neighboring Montgomery County. On this muggy Saturday afternoon an even larger crowd has turned out to knock on doors for an all-female all-star slate of candidates. Madeleine Dean is running for Congress. Maria Collett, a lawyer and a registered nurse (how about that combo), is running for state senate. Her teammates running to flip two House seats are Liz Hambidge and Sara Johnson Rothman. These are strong women. And these are strong candidates. Woody Guthrie’s, “This Land is Your Land” fills the air and the chorus builds with every verse. There are doors to be knocked and blessed now with song, these folks file out with walking lists and precinct maps.
Our final stop of the day is at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Montgomery County. My leadership PAC in partnership with the Montgomery County Democratic Party (thank you, Joe Foerster) has recruited 39 awesome young and old volunteers for a full day of campaign field training. We seem to have more candidates than organizers — it’s a good problem to have. And the ranks of the willing are pretty deep if you tell them how and where they can help.
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, there have been about 100 special elections in state house and state senate districts all across America. Of those races, 50 resulted in no change in Party but the other 50 have — and of those, Democrats have flipped 44 from Republican to Democrat. I’ve been in 25 states over the course of the last year. I’ve campaigned now for more than 80 candidates. Most of them are winning. All of them are beating expectations. And the label they are all carrying door to door isn’t “socialist,” it’s “Democrat.”
Americans don’t like crazy. They don’t believe in putting babies in cages. And they don’t take kindly to Russians meddling in our elections. Or elected officials who lie about it. The people of our country are looking to put the brakes on crazy. The brakes are labeled, “Democrat.” People are looking to restore the American spirit of moderation — a spirit that seems under attack every day from the White House and the cartoon “news” networks that promote him.
Win Back Your State, Pennsylvania — and together we will save our democracy.
Vote this November 6th like your country’s future depends on it.