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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.

Since our National Endorsements program began in 2018, our movement has issued dozens of Congressional and Gubernatorial endorsements, building progressive power by helping to elect the next generation of bold leaders. And local Indivisible groups have endorsed hundreds more candidates at the federal, state, and local levels, fighting to make their leaders more accountable.

Both upstart candidates and longtime elected officials recognize that local Indivisible groups are a real source of political power and that earning your support is extremely valuable. They’ve seen the incredible hard work from Indivisibles across the country fighting against Trumpism and right-wing, reactionary currents.

You’ve pushed candidates on the issues that matter. You’ve knocked doors, phonebanked, and held candidate forums. And you’ve made sure that the people who power our multiracial, grassroots coalition came out to vote. Indivisibles have real people power that’s impossible to ignore, and candidates want to tap into that.

But we all know our work is not done. Each year that we elect more Indivisible champions the more powerful our movement becomes and the better we’re able to build lasting majorities that can enact progressive priorities. In the House of Representatives, this torch is carried by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who organize and fight to ensure that we pass the most ambitious and progressive legislation possible.

Beating the GOP, a party that is no longer committed to maintaining basic tenets of democracy, is a hugely important general election goal. It’s absolutely necessary that we continue to repel far-right forces. We also need leaders that are not just pro-democracy, but who will staunchly defend progressive values and stand indivisible with us. That means we have to care about who wins Democratic primaries.

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.

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. 

Summary

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.