The Sunrise Movement, the youth-powered climate activist group, is putting its organizing skills to the test against climate-change-denying Republicans by unveiling a slate of congressional endorsements — several in the nation’s most contested districts this election cycle.
The organization plans to announce later on Thursday that it is throwing its weight behind 18 Democratic candidates, aiming to make 2.5 million calls, mail 180,000 personalized postcards and send 1.2 million texts.
Some of the names on the list are expected and will likely win their races. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), for example, already represent Democratic strongholds.
Other endorsements go to the victors in hard-fought primaries that Sunrise activists got behind this year, including Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.), who last week fended off a challenge from a Kennedy in large part due to Sunrise’s organizing, and Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, who upset entrenched incumbents in Missouri and New York, respectively. Markey, Bush and Bowman are also strongly favored to win their general elections.
But after making waves in Democratic primary politics, Sunrise has turned its attention to ousting sitting Republicans as well. Notably, the group is looking to unseat Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan with its only endorsement in a House district that is also on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue list of targeted races. Sunrise is backing Upton’s Democratic challenger, state Rep. Jon Hoadley. Upton was reelected in 2018 by less than 5 percentage points amid a blue wave that swept across Michigan.
Also on Sunrise’s list are two House seats in Texas held by Republicans Roger Williams, who is facing health care industry worker Julie Oliver in a district that stretches between Austin and Fort Worth, and Michael McCaul, who represents the suburbs and small towns between Austin and Houston. Both districts have strong conservative roots, but Democrats have come within striking distance before.
This will be the second time that Mike Siegel, an Austin attorney, takes on McCaul with a Green New Deal and “Medicare for All” platform. Siegel shocked the state when he came within 5 points of ousting McCaul in 2018. The district has been rated “leans Republican” according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, with a 9 point advantage for Republicans.
The Sunrise Movement, which has helped transform the Democratic Party’s discourse on climate change, has established a formidable political operation this cycle — especially for progressives challenging sitting Democrats in primaries. For first-time candidates without substantial networks, the young activists have filled the often campaign-breaking resource gaps, investing in big phone-banking operations and digital communications.
Most recently in Markey’s heated Senate primary against Rep. Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Sunrise’s digital advertising campaign reached 4 million viewers on social media, helping deliver the Green New Deal co-author a decisive victory.
Bowman, who defeated high-ranking Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.) in a July primary, told The Intercept that Sunrise activists made 865,000 of 1.2 million phone calls during his campaign. Bush’s campaign, which largely flew under the radar, also benefited from Sunrise’s get-out-the-vote operation.
But those were Democratic primaries, and Sunrise is now facing uphill battles in almost all the red-to-blue districts where it has chosen to endorse a candidate.
“Most of these races aren’t going to be easy, and we’re up against millions in corporate PAC money,” Sunrise political director Evan Weber said in a statement.
In California, for example, Sunrise is throwing its support behind Audrey Denney, who works in the agricultural industry, in a race against longtime climate change denier Doug LaMalfa. The Republican incumbent represents the district where the Camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, devastated communities just two years ago.
As the state is once again ablaze with wildfires, Sunrise is hoping their message will be especially salient, despite LaMalfa’s electoral strength.
“People are dying and losing their homes and jobs,” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “But politicians in D.C. are sitting on their hands, and the president of the United States is telling people that the solution is to clean up their yards.”
In addition to 10 already mentioned ― Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, Omar, Tlaib, Bush, Bowman, Hoadley, Oliver, Siegel and Denney ― the full list of Sunrise general election endorsements also includes these eight:
Mondaire Jones, who is likely to succeed Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey in New York;
Rep. Mike Levin, who represents San Diego’s coastal district;
Marie Newman, who beat the House’s most conservative Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski, in the Illinois primary;
Beth Doglio, who is in a top-two race against another Democrat in Washington state;
Cathy Kunkel, who is challenging Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, an advocate for defunding the Environmental Protection Agency;
Marquita Bradshaw, who is running to fill retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander’s open seat;
Paula Jean Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter who failed to oust West Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin two years ago and is now running against Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito; and
Qasim Rashid, who is running against Republican Rep. Rob Wittman in Virginia.
Weber said, “It’s time for us to show the political establishment that voters in swing districts around the country ― from Big Oil’s backyard in Texas to fire-scorched California to coal-industry-abandoned West Virginia and industrial Michigan ― want a Green New Deal to bring us out of the recession and take on climate change.”
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