ATLANTA (AP) — National Democrats are taking the first, modest steps toward their promised 50-state strategy, lending help to state and local parties as they try to harness opposition to President Donald Trump and the Republican monopoly in Washington.
Dubbing the effort "Resistance Summer," the Democratic National Committee plans to distribute about $1 million — with promises of more later — through a matching grant program for local Democrats to organize voters. It's the party's first concrete expansion plan since Tom Perez took over as chairman, and party leaders bill it as a recognition they must do more to get actual votes out of the anti-Trump groundswell.
The amount is a fraction of the billions spent nationwide each election cycle and shows what the party is up against alongside liberal grassroots organizations and even a new political organization, Onward Together, by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez's opponent for chair and now his top deputy, said the intent is to help local Democrats manage everything from rallies, town halls and neighborhood meetings to registration drives and voter database improvements.
"We're asking them to engage neighbors not just in this whole mess about Trump ... but on what kind of vision we have for our country," Ellison said, adding that he and Perez are talking regularly to many of the independent groups on the left.
Initial recipients include Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, Kansas and South Dakota. Those states span the spectrum of Democratic fortunes: Massachusetts is a liberal bastion; Michigan is a presidential battleground; Arizona is nearing swing-state status; Kansas and South Dakota are Republican strongholds.
Nationally, Democrats face a power deficit they've not seen in nine decades. Republicans control the White House and Congress, hold 33 governorships and run about two-thirds of state legislatures.
Michigan Democratic Chairman Brandon Dillon said he'd use the national money to help pay the six new field organizers he's hired since November, when Clinton lost to Trump by fewer than 11,000 out of more than 4.5 million votes. Those workers are updating individual voter information the party gives its candidates.
"Our voter file isn't as good as it should be, and we haven't been doing the kind of organizing we should," Dillon said.
In Republican-run Kansas, Chairman John Gibson has only one organizer based outside the capital. His goal is hiring one for each of the state's four congressional districts, including a Wichita-based district where Democrats just lost a surprisingly close special House election.
"It's up to Democratic candidates to make that argument" for "a better way of governing," Gibson said, "but it's the job of the party to build the infrastructure candidates can use to win campaigns."
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