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2020 Endorsements Guide

A practical guide for endorsing in local, state, and federal elections

The original Indivisible Guide focused on how to act locally to influence your elected officials. This guide focuses on how to act locally to hold them accountable at the ballot box -- and in some cases, how to replace them. 

2018 was a banner year for Democrats up and down the ballot. Voter turnout for a midterm election was the highest it’s been in over 100 years. We took back the House by gaining an unprecedented 41 seats. We flipped 7 governorships and 6 state legislative chambers. We took the fight to the ballot box and won (feels good, right?).

It was also a banner year for our movement. None of these electoral victories would have been possible without the incredible hard work from Indivisibles across the country. You pushed candidates on the issues that matter. You knocked doors, phonebanked, and held candidate forums. And you made sure that the people who power our multiracial, grassroots coalition came out to vote. Your energy and dedicated organizing changed the game. 

Last year, we also saw Indivisibles wield the formidable power of endorsements. Local groups made hundreds of endorsements, using people power to elevate progressive candidates and help them win. We also debuted our National Endorsements Program, endorsing 74 candidates (nominated by local groups) at the House, Senate, and Gubernatorial levels. And though some of those endorsements -- especially in primaries -- resulted in some really difficult conversations, we emerged stronger and ready to win in November.

But we all know our work isn’t done. Come 2020, it’s even more important that we defeat Trump’s plutocratic, white supremacist cabal. This election will determine not only the Presidency, but also who will sit on the Supreme Court, whether Republicans can gerrymander our districts for 10 more years, and whether we can end the filibuster and implement a truly progressive agenda. 

First, we must protect our gains and retake the reins of power. We may have won the House, but the Senate, the Presidency, and seats further down the ballot are up for grabs. Beating Trump and his lackeys is a general election goal, and it’s absolutely necessary to repel far-right forces for good.

Second, we must recognize that anti-Trumpism alone won’t cut it. We need leaders who will not just be anti-Trump, but who will staunchly rise up for progressive values and stand indivisible with us all. That means we have to care about who wins not just the general election, but primaries as well.

We know elections -- especially primaries! -- can be intimidating. We also know that an endorsement, done correctly, is one of our most powerful tools for change. This guide demystifies the process, with advice on how best to engage in both primary and general elections.

We can repeat the successes of 2018. We can make sure the Blue Wave is not an anomaly. Indivisibles, acting in concert with millions of people around the country, have the potential to make the difference in 2020 and ensure a more equitable and progressive future for our country. We know that when we fight, we win, and we can’t wait to keep winning with all of you.

Who is this guide by and for?

We: Are former political campaign hacks who have worked on local, state, and federal elections.

You: Are an Indivisible group leader or member looking to build your power. 

What: This guide aims to demystify the candidate endorsement process, including for (gasp!) primaries.

Why: Done right, endorsements are a critical tool for applying and growing your Indivisible group's political power. 


PROLOGUE: 2018 Success Stories

CHAPTER 1: Why Candidates Care about your Indivisible Group

What the campaign needs to win: people, media, money. Campaigns are focused on one thing: winning. They win by getting votes. They get votes by acquiring and deploying three resources: people, media, and money. Understanding this should help your Indivisible group productively engage with campaigns.

Why campaigns covet Indivisible group support: Indivisible groups are unique because you are real, locally-based, engaged constituents. That is rare, and it can mean political power for your Indivisible group. Candidates seek out Indivisible group support because they recognize it will bring people, media and/or money. Your support is valuable, and Indivisible groups should treat it as such. 

CHAPTER 2: What Makes Your Group’s Endorsement Powerful?

Indivisible group endorsements are about mobilizing people, media, or money. Indivisible groups only have power with political campaigns if they mobilize key resources to help those campaigns win. We talk about what an endorsement IS and why the process of endorsement is important for determining how you engage in a campaign.

What your Indivisible group offers a campaign. Defining which key resources the group will mobilize in support of an election outcome.

What your Indivisible group achieves. Wielding and growing political power beyond elections.

CHAPTER 3: Why Your Indivisible Group Should Consider Endorsing in Primaries 

We’ve heard from some groups worried about possible pitfalls of engaging in primaries. This section walks through some of the benefits of the primary system, and some best practices for ensuring primary endorsements don’t cause ill will. 

CHAPTER 4: Factors to Consider when Endorsing a Candidate

What do you care about? Who is the candidate? And, how strong a candidate are they? These are the kinds of questions your group will have to answer to endorse. We walk you through how to answer them.

CHAPTER 5: How to Make an Endorsement

Step-by-step advice on how to endorse and when. We take you from initial candidate conversations, all the way through the decision-making process and finally, the endorsement itself. And we walk through common pitfalls organizations run into when making these important statements of position and value.

  1. How to Interact With Candidates and Gather Information

  2. How to Endorse / How NOT to make an endorsement

CHAPTER 6: Taking Your Endorsement National

Once you’ve endorsed a candidate locally, you’ll have the option to nominate them for a national endorsement. What does a national endorsement mean for your group, and why should you seek one out? What is the process? We go into details of our national endorsements program.

PLEASE NOTE: How you engage in elections depends a lot on your group’s organizational status. This guide is intended for local groups that can engage in political activity, including: groups that are currently unincorporated and haven’t sought any formal entity status, groups that have formed 501(c)(4) organizations, groups participating in Indivisible’s Distributed Fundraising Program (which generally follows 501(c)(4) spending rules), and groups that have formed political organizations (i.e., 527 organizations or PACs). This guide is not intended for 501(c)(3) organizations as 501(c)(3)s are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity, including endorsing candidates.

Political spending can trigger campaign finance rules and reporting requirements, so if you have questions about specific political spending that your group would like to do, please consult with a campaign finance attorney who can help you plan for compliance.