The head of the national Democratic Party helped urge students to register to vote on Monday at the Auraria campus in Denver, a key element of the party’s strategy to win races in competitive states.
“This is a mid-term election. We do have drop-off,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told The Colorado Statesman. “That’s why we’re focused on voter expansion.”
Wasserman Schultz, who represents a south Florida district in Congress, contends that the party’s legions of grassroots volunteers, along with what she termed the Democrats’ advantage in technology, will make the difference in what could otherwise be a Republican romp at the polls in November.
“We’re helping voters answer the question, ‘Who has my back?’ when they go to the polls and cast their vote,” said Wasserman Schultz, who took a break from corralling passing students to speak with reporters. Joining her were CU Regent Joe Neguse, who is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, CU regent candidate Naquetta Ricks, and Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio.
“There are so many examples of Republicans doing harm to students and their needs,” Wasserman Schultz said. “There’s a lot at stake.” She added, “Students get it, we just need to make sure they know there’s an election and understand why it’s important.”
Key seats at risk in Colorado this year include incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is tied in the polls with his Republican challenger, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, neck-and-neck with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, the Yuma Republican who turned the Senate race competitive when he jumped in earlier this spring. In addition, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Democrat, is locked in one of the tightest congressional races in the country against Aurora Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.
But high-profile contests aren’t the only reason Wasserman Schultz was making her third trip to Colorado this cycle. It’s important to elect Democratic secretaries of state, she said, because the alternatives are Republicans, “who believe in voter suppression, who think we should actually rig the outcome of an election by shrinking the electorate, by making it harder for people to vote.”
Neguse said that he’s running to replace Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — his Republican opponent is El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams — because he wants to make it easier for Coloradans to vote.
Noting that his parents fled a civil war in Eritrea “under pretty harrowing circumstances,” Neguse said, “At a very early age, they taught us how important it is not to take for granted the sacred freedoms we have in this country. And it begins with the right to vote, to participate in our democracy.”
Wasserman Schultz blasted Republicans for engaging in “explicit, deliberate voter suppression” and cited examples of GOP leaders nationwide bragging about how stricter election laws would reduce turnout. “They’re not even trying to hide it,” she sighed. “It’s not American to be rooting for fewer people to vote.”
Still, she admitted, her party faces an uphill battle getting their voters to cast ballots in a midterm election, which typically sees lower turnout among Democratic constituencies.
To combat that apathy, she pointed to the DNC’s recently launched Voter Expansion Project and a one-stop website for voters in most states to register, check their status and learn the local requirements for voting. (The DNC, along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the state party announced last month that they were hiring longtime party operative Mike Weissman as state director for the project.)
“We’re using our embedded grassroots, the decade-long building of our grassroots network, coupled with our digital and technological advantage, and our IWillVote.com website,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It really allows us to be quite sophisticated in our voter registration efforts. And then we’ve just got to get people out.”
She added that the party is mobilizing thousands of poll workers in competitive states around the country, including Colorado, “to make sure we can not only protect the vote but also turn out the vote.”
Boosting Democratic turnout in a midterm is a constant chore, party officials acknowledged, although they sounded confident that they’ve figured out how to do it this year.
The party has counted more than 300,000 Democrats who voted in presidential cycles 2008 and 2012 but didn’t cast ballots in the 2010 midterm, enough to swing the evenly divided state from blue to red.
“If we can turn out our Democrats, then we can win all the way up and down the tickets,” said Jennifer Koch, Colorado Democratic Party executive director. The voter registration drive and an effort aimed at informing voters about the state’s new election laws — everyone gets a mail ballot this year and voters can register up to Election Day — could make the difference, she said.
“We’re going to be incredibly efficient reaching out to our people this year,” Koch predicted. “Democrats, even when we get outspent, we will spend our dollars more efficiently because we have better data.”
The party plans to use some of that data to mobilize the nearly 100,000 voters who are what strategists call “drop-off voters,” reliable votes for the top of the ticket but who won’t bother checking off down-ballot races.
“We’ve come up with a universe using voting history targeting precincts that have typically higher drop-off rates,” Koch said. Democrats intend to knock on their doors with “a little bit of a different message — it’s, ‘Hey, we know that you’re with us on the issues, we need you to remember to vote all the way down the ticket, here’s some information on the candidates that are not at the top.’”
Encouraging just a fraction of those voters to fill out the entire ballot could yield big results, she said. “It would drastically shift the election if we got 20,000 of them statewide. That would be a game-changer.
Through the end of July, unaffiliated voters accounted for the largest share, 35.1 percent, of the state’s 2,856,703 active, registered voters, according to the secretary of state’s office. Republicans had 32.8 percent and Democrats had 30.8 percent, with the remainder registered as Greens, Libertarians or with the American Constitution Party.
See the August 29 print edition for full photo coverage.