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Endorsing a Candidate And Coming Out Stronger: How CA-50’s Indivisible Groups Did It

Pam Hughes & Kathy Stadler - 03/19/2018

CA50 made the first Indivisible congressional endorsement in California. Using the Indivisible Endorsement Guide, we pioneered a process that elevated our profile and threw strong support to one Democrat in the race. And we gained new members! Here’s how.

CA50, east of the city of San Diego, is one of the reddest districts in California. Trump won it in 2016 by 15 points and incumbent Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter votes with Trump 94% of the time. Hunter is facing indictment for stealing campaign funds.

By late 2017, four Democrats were competing to challenge Hunter and a handful of Indivisible groups were eager to jump in and quickly endorse their favored candidates. In California’s “jungle primary” system, the top two winners move on to the general election, regardless of party. We faced the possibility that no Democrat would get past our primary in June.

Determined to improve our odds through an impactful, unified endorsement, a dozen local Indivisible groups formed the Indivisible CA50 coalition. Our endorsement goals included:

  • Boost one Democrat to the top
  • Influence the California Democratic Party’s choice
  • Engage Indivisible members
  • Recruit new members
  • Break silos between red and blue districts
  • Strengthen bonds among coalition groups

Strategic Inclusion

We made a strategic decision to invite a wide group of voters to participate in the endorsement. Our only criterion was to welcome anyone 16 and older who wanted to Flip the 50th!  

Because our members’ participation varies widely, from Facebook to rallies to congressional visits to planning meetings, there wasn’t a fair way to decide whose activism “counts”. We agreed that endorsement voters would not have to prove Indivisible membership and that we would open up voting to the entire community.

Our voters also did not have to be registered voters, as we wanted to give a voice to future voters and immigrants who are ineligible to participate in elections.

More controversially, we determined that endorsement voters did not have to live in the 50th district. This was designed to lower barriers to participation and engage blue district neighbors whose support we knew CA50 would need to flip the seat. Our post-vote metrics found that 25% of our voters resided outside the district. Many blue district residents now volunteer to flip 50.

Our final requirement to vote was that voters had to appear in person and formally join our coalition by providing their names, addresses and contact information.

This high-inclusion model challenged the four candidates to mobilize their supporters to turn out for them and revealed much about the strengths of each campaign.

Preparation Steps

Task force leaders widely distributed a document to explain the process and answer FAQs. The most frequent questions were:

  • Why do it as a coalition? (Our unified voice has more impact.)
  • Why not wait for the Democratic Party to choose? (We can influence them.)
  • Why let folks outside the district vote? (We need blue support to win.)

We also curated voter education information to inform undecided voters about candidates’ stands on issues. We provided links to campaign websites and media profiles, as well as candidates’ answers to an issue questionnaire. We found many voters remained undecided and wanted even more information before voting.

Engagement through Meeting in Person

For transparency, we voted publicly, in person, at libraries, homes, restaurants and even a brewery with a taco truck. To be as inclusive as possible, we offered nine meetings across the district during a 3-week period, in evenings and on weekends and in diverse geographic locations. Group leaders offered carpools and other assistance to encourage participation.

Attendees arrived feeling important, hopeful and excited. Volunteer greeters welcomed each arrival and began a conversation. The events facilitated wonderful social connections with friends old and new, and fostered a feeling of unity and purpose.

Experienced local Democratic clubs warned us that both the actual and perceived integrity of the vote were paramount if our results were to be accepted by partisans of the losing candidates. We trained volunteers to register every voter on a tablet, laptop or phone, then assigned each voter a unique ID number to prevent double voting. Each voter received a unique ballot to match their number. In the final count, no one voted more than once.

We gave candidates a table for campaign literature and shared other election resources with voters, such as canvassing opportunities. We even used a transparent ballot box!

Meeting Format

We began every meeting by asking anyone new to Indivisible to raise their hands, so we could applaud and welcome them. To our delight, 47% of attendees were not currently affiliated with a local Indivisible group.

Indivisible leaders then gave a slide presentation on who we are and why we were there, and answered every question. This took time, but was key to sustaining engagement by participants during and after the vote.

Every Democratic candidate was invited to speak at each meeting. If unable to attend all nine events, we offered to share a video message from them instead. Despite many prior candidate forums, some voters hadn’t see the candidates in person before and valued this opportunity to hear from them directly.

Promotion Opportunities

We prioritized branding and displayed Indivisible banners both inside and outside voting events. Voters were encouraged to pose for photos and share with their social media networks.

We built anticipation with Indivisible members, allies and media by sharing frequent voting updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Media attended some events and we kept local press updated on our progress.

Partway through our process, one candidate realized he wasn’t the “chosen one” and opted to drop out and endorse the frontrunner. This also made news. The candidate said voters at our endorsement meetings showed him he lacked sufficient support to win and helped persuade him to withdraw.

The Reward

After hundreds of votes were cast, a candidate-neutral accountant from outside the district counted and certified the vote. We had set a threshold of 2/3 of the vote to win. This high bar ensured that we would not endorse if the voters were deeply split on who to support.  But we had a winner: Ammar Campa-Najjar!

We notified the candidates first, and then the voters. We shared our good news with Indivisible and the world through social media and the press. By giving the news a day in advance to a Los Angeles Times political reporter, she was ready to publish her story on the morning of our public announcement.

After all our hard work, it was time to throw a party! We invited every voter, other Indivisible members, and their families to celebrate with music, chanting, flag waving and speeches. It was a rally to remember! 

At the party, we also signed up volunteers to:

  • Register voters
  • Join canvass teams
  • Phone and text bank
  • Write postcards
  • Join Twitter teams
  • Host coffees
  • Host fundraisers

Benefits of Endorsement

Benefits for our winner included one less competitor, proof of grassroots support, major publicity, a flood of foot soldiers and great news to share with donors. He also gained that highly esteemed campaign boost: momentum. Weeks later, Ammar Campa-Najjar won the California Democratic Party’s regional endorsement with 97% of the vote.

Benefits for Indivisible included growing our capacity by stretching ourselves beyond anything we had tried before. We also developed our leadership and strengthened our bonds. We engaged media and members and recruited many new members. Other candidates now covet an Indivisible endorsement because they see its value.

And that’s the story of Indivisible’s CA50 endorsement! It’s not for everyone and if your group is deeply divided between rival candidates, it might not make sense for you. But try not to let a few passionate partisans deter you from endorsing. it’s a great way to assert Indivisible as a political force in your community and attract new members through an open and inclusive process.

It also feels fantastic! We attracted young voters, including a 16-year-old girl who was thrilled to cast her first vote.

We also gave a voice and a choice to Dreamers, who hope to vote as American citizens one day.

We celebrated with an older immigrant who proudly cast the first vote of his lifetime!

Voting brought many people together for fun and purpose in a true grassroots exercise of our democracy. We in CA50 highly recommend elevating your Indivisible group by using your power to endorse this election season.