Democrats Rally to 2020 Candidates on Surge of Anti-Trump Energy

(Bloomberg) -- New data shows that the surge of Democratic activism around the country in 2020 has already eclipsed the record level of the midterm elections two years ago -- and is still growing.

While some Democrats worried that grassroots energy might taper off nationally after the party’s success in 2018, organizers say the exact opposite is happening as it gears up for the 2020 presidential nominating process, which kicks off Monday in Iowa.

Nationwide, the number of Democrats signing up to canvass, for phone banks, host gatherings or train as precinct captains for presidential hopefuls has eclipsed 2018’s record-setting pace, according to data from MobilizeAmerica, an organizing platform used by all the major candidates, the Iowa Democratic Party, and many outside groups.

Democrats Rally to 2020 Candidates on Surge of Anti-Trump Energy

“For Democrats there was something so existentially jarring about Trump’s election that it created a kind of socialization around politics in a way that we maybe haven’t seen since the Civil Rights movement,” said Alfred Johnson, the co-founder and chief executive officer of MobilizeAmerica.

Johnson said that 402,000 people signed up to volunteer for Democratic candidates or progressive causes in the month leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats gained 41 congressional seats and took control of the House of Representatives.

As of Friday afternoon, the number who had volunteered around the country in the month of January had reached 428,000, with thousands of new registrants joining each day.

Much of that energy has been focused on Iowa and other early nominating states. Johnson said there is no sign the trend is slowing down. He expects that 4 million volunteers could register by Election Day, as the chance of defeating Trump grows nearer.

For many Democrats who were first drawn to the Women’s March right after Trump’s inauguration or local Resistance groups, he said, political organizing has grown from an activity geared toward a particular race into something much broader: A form of community like a bowling league or the PTA.

Democrats Rally to 2020 Candidates on Surge of Anti-Trump Energy

Right now, that effort is centered in Iowa and the Feb. 3 caucuses. Betty Salmon, a 68-year-old from Urbandale serving as a precinct captain, was among the dozen volunteers making phone calls at Bernie Sanders’ West Des Moines field office. Although she caucused for Sanders in 2016, she did not volunteer for the campaign — a mistake she says she is seeking to rectify.

“I assumed Bernie would win, and I vowed I would never pass up a chance to help Bernie if he ran again,” she said, rattling off the rallies, house parties, phone banks and canvasses she has participated in on behalf of her candidate.

From Joe Biden to Pete Buttigieg to Elizabeth Warren, every Democratic candidate this cycle has hundreds or thousands of people like Salmon, newly activated as a Democratic mega-volunteer, most with plans to continue through till November.

“I can’t believe the number of people like me who had never been active in politics before until the Women’s March,” Salmon said. “Like me, they went to that and haven’t stopped since.”

Democrats Rally to 2020 Candidates on Surge of Anti-Trump Energy

On a recent Sunday morning in Des Moines, one of those volunteers was pulling on snow boots before heading out to canvass for Sanders. Andy Johnson, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, had traveled a long way to join the fight for Sanders. “Seeing the dead heat in Iowa and how close Bernie was to winning, I thought I’d do everything I could to put him over the top,” Johnson said. “So for Christmas I asked for — and got — a plane ticket to Iowa. The campaign has great infrastructure for volunteers, with buses to take you everywhere.”

Johnson’s story is hardly unique. At a Sanders field office in West Des Moines on Wednesday night, volunteers from around the country — and one from New Zealand — spent the evening calling other Sanders supporters and asking them to volunteer. Nearby, a campaign organizer taught supporters how to caucus, while others distributed yard signs and canvass packets. The staff also set up a room filled with toys to accommodate families with young children who wished to volunteer, which, judging from the kid quotient, many did.

“One of the beautiful things about the caucuses is that you have to build out organizations across the state,” Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said after a Biden event. “We’re seeing new people energized and engaged in parts of the state that we haven’t seen in a while.”

Democrats Rally to 2020 Candidates on Surge of Anti-Trump Energy

One of them was Bruce Koeppl, a retired former AARP executive from Des Moines who is a co-precinct captain for Biden. “I think the world needs to be reassured we haven’t lost our way in America,” he said, explaining his decision to volunteer. “I fear for what will happen if [Trump] gets another four years. Not necessarily so much for me but for my grandnieces, my nieces and my nephews.”

Republicans are keen to heighten their activism, too, but growth is hampered by the lack of a competitive Republican contest. Last March, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale claimed his team would “build the largest ground game operation in history” and that “we’re gonna have 1.6 million volunteers.” In a December briefing, the campaign said its volunteer base stood at 300,000.

(DISCLAIMER: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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