Why Maine?

I’ve spent the past few months (the past few years, really) watching in horror at what’s happening in US politics.  While the media typically blames Trump for his terrible policies, the complicity of the US Senate is often missed. Trump is an expert at drawing media attention, but often these stories don’t matter much.  It is often the quieter and more politically savvy Republican controlled Senate doing serious damage (e.g. failing to make a deal on extending pandemic unemployment funding, confirming unqualified judges, designing and passing the terrible tax cut package, and blocking impeachment).   And for those who might have forgotten, the Republican controlled Senate was road blocking almost all significant legislation during much of the Obama administration well before Trump. 

The Flip 2020 project’s mission is to flip the US Senate to a Democratic majority and break the do-nothing Republican congressional gridlock.  Flipping the Senate will be a challenge, but it is possible.  Republicans currently have a three seat majority.  (This will almost certainly become four when Democrat Doug Jones runs for re-election in Alabama, a deep red state, against a Republican candidate who is endorsed by Trump.)  Of the 23 Republican held Senate seats up for grabs this November, 6 races are close enough to be considered “toss-ups.”

Determining where our efforts would most benefit efforts to flip the Senate was no trivial task.  Did we need to choose a small state so our crew would be able to reach a higher percentage of voters?  How do we take care of our canvassers around the pandemic?  Are there Democratic challengers who would help us?  Did we need to minimize travel and housing costs?  What was the weather going to be like in September and October for our outdoor canvassing efforts?  Are there Democratic candidates who were particularly inspiring to support or Republican incumbents who were especially enraging (looking at you Lindsey Graham and Moscow Mitch)?  And of course, which races are competitive enough that our efforts could tip the balance?

We invited a doctor and experts with experience in public health to help us understand the COVID-19 situation in different states.  We poured over polls and political forecasts.  We reached out to campaigns and allies in swing states to see who might help us.  And in the end it became pretty clear that our best option was Maine.

We need to take 4 seats and Maine is the fourth from the top in terms of polling, and the only top state where the polling lead is within the margin of error.  USA Today says “What’s evident is if Republicans lose Maine it will be a sign the Senate is probably lost to Democrats.”

We also wanted to minimize our exposure to pandemic risks, and Maine was by far the safest state of those on our list.  Our friends at the Possibility Alliance in Belfast, Maine offered support and encouragement and local political contacts.  An anonymous donor contributed thousands of dollars for housing so our team can quarantine appropriately before we begin our in-person canvassing efforts.

Susan Collins has the distinction of being the most disapproved of Senators in the country, with over 50% of those surveyed saying they disapproved of her performance.  This is way down from her last election when she was one of the most popular senators in the country.  But siding with the President on impeachment and Kavanaugh’s confirmation has hurt her both nationally and at home.  Collins paved the way for the current postal system slow down.

Collins’ challenger is Sara Gideon, the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. As an experienced Democratic politician she has supported Medicaid expansion in Maine, sponsored legislation to expand abortion access, and has been a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood. She has helped make naloxone available over the counter to help prevent opioid overdoses. She’s a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and has worked to promote clean energy. She supports the US rejoining the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. She supports police reform and gun control.  Gideon is not taking corporate PAC contributions for her campaign.    

So what are we going to do about it?  Well, COVID-19 makes door-to-door canvassing unwise, but we will do street theater, political actions, tabling to supplement the tremendous “air game” of social media, phone banking and postcards.  After our quarantine period, we’ll be splitting our time between actions, phone banking, social media work, and other pandemic compliant activities.   We are looking for street performers, musicians, activists, social media titans, and organizers who can spend September thru the election with us in Maine.  Join us at www.flip2020.org and if you can’t come to Maine, we would appreciate any financial support you can provide.

All Eyes on Georgia

An earlier version of this blog post was posted on Funologist.org, and has been edited and expanded for publication here.

Usually in tight presidential elections, the focus is on Florida.  More polls are taken there, more rallies are held there, more money is spent on advertisements there than almost any other state.  Rich with electoral votes and a highly split electorate, Florida can make or break the top race.  But Florida is shifting from purple to blue.  This is in part because the 2018 referendum added a Florida state constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to ex-felons.  This added 1.5 million people to the voter rolls, most of them Democratic.  [I was fortunate to be part of a canvassing team of of communitarians in Tampa in 2018 working on this referendum.]

But 2020 is not a usual year, as you have no doubt noticed.  This year all eyes are going to be on Georgia, because it is quite likely to surprise most of the nation with an expensive, expansive senate race and may delay knowledge of which party controls the Senate until  2021.

Image Credit: APM Reports

If you are tracking the election closely, you know two of Biden’s top VP choices are from Georgia (more than any other state except California), Stacey Abrams and Keisha Bottoms.  If there were fairness in the world, it would go to Abrams, who was literally robbed of the Governorship of this state by Brian Kemp. Kemp as the Georgia secretary of state purged the election roles of 670K voters, in 2017 (mostly POC) and then won the election by 50K votes and became governor.  Abrams did not concede her “loss” and went on to start Fair Fight 2020 which works to stop voter suppression just like this.

Stacey Abrams And Keisha Lance Bottoms: Getty Images via Blavity

If you are an election geek (as i am becoming these days) you know that there a rere actually two Senate seats available in Georgia in this upcoming election. One seat is up for a regularly-scheduled election, while the other is up for special election due to a resignation.  Thus the term of the Senator who fills this special election seat will only be 2 years long, but it might just determine which party controls the US Senate during those years.

What you likely do not know (unless you are one of the afore-mentioned geeks) is that the special Georgia election is really a “top two primary.” Unless one of the candidates acquires over 50% of the votes (which is quite unlikely given the crowded field)  in will spark a 2 candidate run off election in  January of 2021 which might determine the majority party of the US Senate.  The Biden campaign has recently recognized the importance of Georgia and is sending top staff there.  

Let me tell you a story, based on probabilities and guessing.

It is a week after the election, Nov 10th 2020 and most of the election results are in- polling places closed last week and the absentee and mail-in ballots have all been tallied.  Biden has won both the popular vote and the electoral college by a comforting 65 points beyond the 270 needed.  It is unclear whether Trump will respect the win, and at this point he has not yet conceded.  Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Joni Ernst of Iowa were all able to hold onto their incumbencies for the Republicans, by tight margins.  Political novice Tommy Tuberville forced out Democratic incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama to raise the bar for flipping the Senate to 4 seats.

The Democrats did well in Colorado and North Carolina Senate races, wrestling seats from incumbents.  And former Montana Governor Steve Bullock took the Republican seat from Steve Daines.  Georgia repeated its primary fiasco  and incumbent David Purdue eeked out a <1% victory over Democrat Ossoff, in an election mired in too few polling stations and the deeply suspicious purging of the voting roles of over 100K voters, mostly in the Atlanta metro region and thus disproportionately impacting POC voters.

Atlanta 2020 Primary, AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

As it looks today (Nov 10th) the Democrats have picked up 3 Republican seats in the Senate, bringing the final tally to 49 Democratic Senators and 50 Republicans.  The 100th seat and the determination of which party controls the Senate is on the shoulders of the Georgia special election, which is actually a top two primary also known as a Nonpartisan blanket Primary.  In this free for all fight, with candidates going after members of their own party as well as the opposing one, Rev Raphael Warnock lost to incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler by 2 points, despite Loefflers insider trading scandal.

But Loeffler’s narrow lead does not matter.  What matters is that Loeffler and Warnock were the top two vote getters and thus will runoff against each other on January 5th 2021, which is two days after the new Senate is scheduled to be sworn in.

Rev. Raphael Warnock (L) and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., (R)., via Christian Post

In this possible future, the result of this critical tie breaking race will not be known for 2 months after the general election  These two candidates, who most people have never heard of before today (incumbent Loeffler was appointed just 5 months ago to finish the incomplete term of Johnny Isakson), will become the center of attention in a race which determines if Mitch McConnell can maintain legislative gridlock for two more years.

Ben Stansall/AFP/Pool via REUTERS

This is the future the Flip 2020 Project is working to change.  We are seeking canvassers who are willing to travel to senate swing states and we also are looking for analysts, social media mavens, fundraisers, and networkers to work from home and with flexible hours.   Help us get through this gridlock and take the senate from obstructionist Republicans.