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Democrats Hope Labor Turnout, Ground Game Can Save Them in Midterms

In addition to Republican-leaning outside groups swamping national elections with money in TV ads, Republican candidates in a gowing number of races are individually outraising their Democratic opponents. Democratic campaign committees are letting some races go while moving spending into others thought impenetrable. Meanwhile Republicans feel confident enough about some races to shift spending into these other mapchangers, and expand the playing field. It doesn’t look very promising, with two weeks to go.

However, this may paint a more dire picture than the reality. Many races once thought to be sure losers for Democrats are getting continued support from the national party. And more important, the nature of that support from Dems and Dem-allied groups has a different look than Republican outside groups’ money surge. Corporate interests, simply put, don’t go knock on doors. But labor does. Marc Ambinder took a look at labor’s advantage this cycle:

In part of a coordinated labor effort to increase support for Democrats in union-dense congressional districts this election season, union members have distributed 17.5 million pamphlets at more than 4,000 work sites and made more than 23 million phone calls, and volunteers have knocked on more than 1.3 doors, according to data from the AFL-CIO.

In a memo to union political directors, AFL-CIO political chief Karen Ackerman predicts a better night for Democrats than prognosticators predict, although she acknowledges that “there will be losses.”

According to Ackerman, labor’s tilt toward Democrats has become more pronounced since unions began their program, increasing by double digits the percentage who favor the Democratic candidate in their district since June […]

Ackerman notes that early voting trends in Iowa and Ohio seem to be favoring Democrats so far, and Nevada’s early voting will benefit from unions shuttling members to and from their casinos beginning Monday.

That last bit is important. The preliminary early voting statistics in key states like Iowa and Ohio seem to favor Democrats. Early voting even favors Democratic-registered voters in North Carolina so far. I’m told this is true in California as well. That doesn’t suggest that Democrats are poised for victory or anything, but it does suggest that one side has a better ground game for turnout, and has made it a top priority in the elections. Early and absentee voting used to be a Republican strong point, but Democrats are now banking more votes. That’s because they have more and better resources to get those voters out. Labor plays a crucial role here.

Another data point: the increased enthusiasm of the “rising American electorate,” which people like Page Gardner at Womens Voices Womens Vote have been indicating as crucial for over a year.

Candidates in competitive races would do well to leverage this progress during the next few critical weeks, specifically by targeting voters in the Rising American Electorate (RAE). These voters—unmarried women, young people, and people of color—make up a majority of the American voting-age-population and have the demographic strength to change the outcome in this election. They also drove the change in this country in 2006 and 2008.

The report shows that RAE voters love early voting, and are more enthusiastic to vote now than at any time in the cycle. It’s extremely labor-intensive to find and turn out these drop-off voters, and Democrats have the machinery to do it, though work remains to be done on that score. The RAE, while improved, still underperforms 2006 and 2008.

Will this limit or erase losses? Usually a ground game doesn’t add much more than a couple points to the overall total. The overall political environment still predominates. But having a ground game doesn’t hurt.

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David Dayen

David Dayen