Politics & Government

Dems pushing candidates to adopt single tool built by former Obama aide

In the last days of Conor Lamb’s campaign, the Democratic candidate tweeted at his supporters to make one last get-out-the-vote push.

It was an unremarkable request, save for one detail: The tweet included a link to what turned out to be a powerful tool in his campaign’s success.

The Pennsylvania Democrat was using new software that Democratic strategists say is revolutionizing digital organizing. Called MobilizeAmerica, the tool makes it easier for candidates and progressive groups to recruit, organize, and track new volunteers — even those who haven’t been contacted directly by a campaign.

Now, top Democratic operatives are counting on the software to help harness grassroots enthusiasm in races throughout the country, creating a more robust volunteer network than the party has had.

“We’re making our campaigns more efficient with their time, we’re building a bigger base of activists, and in turn we are going to talk to more voters,” said Kurt Bagley, national field director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “In the long run, that means our money goes further with each field investment, and we’re more likely to win in tight races since we’re having more conversations with voters.”

“The tool is going to be used far and wide across the House battlefield,” Bagley said.

Progressive groups such Swing Left, which has a large, engaged following, has adopted the tool.

“We’ve been introducing a lot of the campaigns to Mobilize,” said Ethan Todras-Whitehill, executive director and co-founder of Swing Left. “We’ve been saying, ‘Hey, we want to plug our volunteers into your campaign, you want our volunteers on your campaign, but there’s just one thing you need to do: You need to sign up for Mobilize.’”

More than 50 House Democratic campaigns have adopted the software, according to MobilizeAmerica co-founder Alfred Johnson, double the number from a month ago.

Democratic field operatives say digital organizing has long been inefficient, redundant, and time-consuming — a genuine drag on campaigns that pride themselves on imitating the volunteer-heavy effort of Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Campaign staffers would need to input event information on multiple websites — such as Facebook or Evite — with no guarantee their supporters or friendly progressive groups would see it. Tracking who planned to attend, much less reminding them ahead of the event, was difficult.

MobilizeAmerica automatically contacts volunteers, making it easier for activist organizations to highlight the event for their members and helping campaigns tap into a much larger pool of would-be helpers. Campaign staff say that has helped promote cooperation between campaigns and activist counterparts that both sides think is key to winning elections in November.

Johnson and co-founder Allen Kramer started MobilizeAmerica in January 2017. Johnson had worked for Obama’s 2008 campaign and later in the White House. By 2016, he was working in the tech industry and away from politics.

Hillary Clinton’s loss that year motivated him to return, and when he and Kramer saw the massive outpouring of activism during the Women’s March the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, they knew how they wanted to help the party.

“The narrative at the time was, ‘Can the resistance be electoralized? Can we figure out how to turn marchers into canvassers?’” Johnson said. "We knew that something incredible was happening. And we knew this was unlike something we had ever seen before.”

Johnson’s software received its first test last year, when 11 Democratic candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates adopted it. The success of those campaigns helped persuade national Democrats to take a look, including Lamb’s campaign.

“We are in an existential moment in our democracy that is being felt in cities and states across the country,” Johnson said. “And millions of people want to participate at levels they haven’t before, necessitating a platform that lets their voices be heard directly on behalf of candidates they want to support.”

Progressives say they’ve been impressed with how widely adopted the tool has become, both among activists and Democratic campaigns. They say it’ll give the party an edge this November.

“When you have something that is sort of like ubiquitously accepted as the right tool and everybody adopts it, well, that’s a pretty powerful thing,” Todras-Whitehill said.