Democrats bring out the small guns in hyperlocal key-state push


During this week’s Republican National Convention, Joe Biden didn’t travel as much for in-person counter-programming as his opponent did last week. While President Trump held multiple events in multiple states during the Democratic National Convention, Biden did a round of television interviews, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, gave a speech. With national attention focused on the RNC, Hurricane Laura, wildfires, COVID-19 and riots in Kenosha, Wis., the Democratic National Committee attempted to push personal stories at the local level, a strategy it intends to pursue through November’s election.

In events set up by state Democratic parties in coordination with the Biden campaign and the DNC, a number of activists and local officials who spoke at the convention continued to push for Biden and attempt to outline what they see as the failures of the Trump administration. With Trump and Biden set to dominate national headlines, the Democrats are also mounting a small-ball game plan aimed at winning favorable local coverage in key states.

Many of the messages are directed at health care. Between the White House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, much of the messaging is on health care, a key issue that helped Democrats take back the House of Representatives in 2018.

Michelle Boyle, a Pittsburgh-area nurse and SEIU member, took part in a roundtable on the opening night of the Democratic convention followed by a virtual press call earlier this week. Boyle said she became more involved through her union in supporting the Affordable Care Act after her mother-in-law, who had a preexisting condition, lost her job then her health insurance and died a year later at age 58.

“I don’t want to screw this up,” said Boyle. “There’s too much depending on this, that’s why it’s so scary. I don’t want to do something wrong, I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing to help move this forward. I’ve been a nurse now for 26 years, and stepping out and doing something even though it scares you anyway is far less painful than what I have experienced as a nurse.”

Steve Gomez became an advocate for protecting the ACA following Trump’s election, telling the story of his son Anthony, who was born in 2015 with a rare heart defect. Both Steve and Anthony joined Biden for a conversation during the convention, and afterward, Gomez was asked to continue telling his story, starting this week with an event set up by the Arizona Democratic Party.

In this image from video, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden leads a conversation on health care with Julie Buckholt, Steve Gomez, Jeff Jeans, Laura Packard, and Dr. Angie Taylor during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)
Joe Biden leads a conversation about health care on the second night of the Democratic convention. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

“There are too many families across the country like mine who have family members with preexisting conditions or substantial medical costs,” Gomez said. “If the protections the ACA offers are gone, one, you face the aspect of how do I even get health care, and two, once you do get your treatment, are you having to put your house up for sale or risk not paying your bills or basically going into financial ruin in order to stay alive?”

Kristin Urquiza, who spoke at the convention about losing her father, Mark, to COVID-19, will also work with the DNC going forward.

The DNC has also tapped activists focused on issues beyond health care. Fred Guttenberg has been an outspoken advocate for new gun safety legislation since losing his daughter, Jaime, in the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting. After speaking at the DNC, he did a joint press call with Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla. Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the 2016 convention and represented Virginia during the roll call this year, expressed concern about the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants.

Convention organizers had been criticized by some Texas Democrats for giving the state short shrift, with neither of its former presidential candidates, Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro, being given solo speaking slots. But two of the speakers — Michele Beebe, an El Paso, Texas, elementary school nurse who discussed health care at the convention, and Robert Lopez, a firefighter from the Rio Grande Valley who participated in a roundtable with Biden — will continue being advocates in the state.

In this image from video, Khizr Khan speaks during the state roll call vote on second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)
Khizr Khan during the state roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 18. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

Local officials like Nevada state Sen. Yvanna Cancela and Portage County (Ohio) Commissioner Kathleen Clyde will also be part of the coordinated effort.

Will these hyperlocal events have an effect on a national race that has settled into a fairly stable equilibrium, with Biden holding a steady, if not quite safe, lead? That’s unlikely, but they could provide value at the margins in key states. Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,000 votes in 2016, the tightest result in the state in decades, while polling consistently shows Texas within a single point. In Arizona, Biden has a slight lead in most polls after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by 3.5 points.

“Americans across the battleground states are stepping up and sharing the devastating consequences of Donald Trump’s failed presidency because they know firsthand how much is at stake in this election,” John Weber, DNC deputy director of battleground state communications, told Yahoo News in a statement. “They’re some of our best messengers to define and localize Trump’s record — they were key to the success of our unprecedented convention and in ensuring folks in their state heard the truth during the RNC, and they’re going to continue sharing their stories about Trump’s broken promises leading up to Election Day.”

As the DNC begins to ramp up digital events, Biden himself has been criticized by Trump for his lack of travel. On Thursday, the Democratic nominee said he would likely return to the trail after Labor Day.

“One of the things we’re thinking about is I’m going to be going up into Wisconsin, and Minnesota, spending time in Pennsylvania, out in Arizona. But we’re going to do it in a way that is totally consistent with being responsible, unlike what this guy’s doing,” Biden said at a campaign fundraising event, according to a pool report. “I’m a tactile politician. I really miss being able to, you know, grab hands, shake hands, you can’t do that now. But I can in fact appear beyond virtually, in person, in many of these places.”


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