In mid-June, I had the opportunity to attend a conference entitled "Opportunity 2020: The Way to Win."
It was sponsored by a group called Third Way, a Washington, DC-based think tank that champions modern center-left ideas. I had been invited to attend their conference last year, but campaigning took priority. I stayed on their mailing list and I found that the research and the messaging resonated with what I was seeing on the campaign trail in southwestern PA.
When the invitation came for this year's conference, I was interested in the wide spectrum of speakers that were planned. These included Nancy Patton Mills, Chair of the PA Democratic Party, the chairs of the Michigan and Wisconsin Dem Parties, and several of the freshman U.S. House Members who were part of the group of 43 that flipped the House from "red to blue". Besides, I had never been to Charleston, SC so I decided to attend, see what they had to say and spend some time in Charleston.
Little did I know that I would be a witness to what has emerged as a controversy between Third Way, and AOC/supporters of Bernie Sanders. There were many important messages from the conference and I'll get to them. However, the one that got the most press attention and follow-up was the view expressed by Third Way leaders and several of the elected officials who spoke that while many of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump, "a self-described Democratic Socialist" moving the Democratic party too far left cannot beat Trump andwill not retain the House majority.
Jon Cowan, President of Third Way, reminded the group that in 2016, Donald Trump won 3 states by 77,000 votes. He described the makeup of these three states- Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin- as 26% liberals, 34% conservative and 39% moderate.
His theme, echoed through the conferences, was that if we are going to win in 2020, we need to get the votes of 100% of the liberals and the votes of 61% of the moderates. He called it a "partisan plus persuadable" strategy. And he and other speakers talked about the broad-based coalition of voters necessary to get there. They talked about the importance of modern, pragmatic ideas that also are big and bold-helping Americans to earn more in a modern economy with opportunity in the places where they live now. They talked about a number of ideas to provide opportunities for more earning power-to reform, not reject capitalism. There was lots of discussion about the importance of improving opportunities to earn good middle-class wages in the communities where people live so that their kids don't have to leave home. That was clearly a message I heard throughout the communities in Southwest PA.
There was also discussion about a recent Third Way conducted a survey of Democratic primary voters. The results were presented by Lanae Erickson, Third Way SVP of Policy. The full study and methodology can be found at this link.
For me, some of the most resonant findings were "that voters want a candidate who can win AND unify the country to solve urgent problems." [This means that]
Primary voters want a candidate who has the best chance to beat Trump (63%) vs those who want a candidate that matches my policy preferences (32%)
Voters want to build a broad coalition (67%) rather than one who leans left to energize liberals (25%)
Voters want a focus on expanding opportunity (58%) vs one who focuses on income inequality (36%)
Voters want someone who can get things done by working across party lines (76%) vs candidate who takes bold but intransigent positions (19%)
The concept of winning over "partisans plus persuadables" was one that we attempted to implement in the race for 2018 PA-14 U.S. Congressional race. Because the recent history of the district made it clear that many registered Dems were actually voting Republican, we couldn't rely on the 'super-voter Dems" to be our "partisans". Rather, we created our walk and call lists through a multi-step process utilizing the data-rich features of Votebuilder.
Sadly, we learned too late in the process about these data capabilities. Because volunteer resources and time were short, we couldn't touch as many of these "partisans plus persuadable" voters as we needed. However, based on insight about the Votebuilder capabilities and results from the people we did reach, there's a reason to believe that this approach can help us work smarter-because we know many, many people worked so hard for so many great candidates!
In conclusion, we would encourage that we start the process of identifying and engaging "partisans plus persuadable" much earlier in the process by agreeing on the key defining characteristics for our local races and expanding the process of "precinct ownership" across the counties in SWPA.
--Bibie Boerio with help from Trisha Calvarese