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The Great Slate

For a year now I've been fundraising for a project called the Great Slate, an effort to persuade tech workers to make campaign donations to Democratic House candidates in Republican-leaning districts where money might not otherwise flow.

In that time, while I've talked and tweeted a lot about the Great Slate, I have never written a clear exposition of what we are trying to do. It seems prudent, before the election makes everything obvious in hindsight, to lay out the reasons for all the fuss.

I started this project last year with a sophisticated political analysis of what was happening in the country. Reality chewed through it like a wood chipper. After a year of constant travel, and encounters with over forty Congressional campaigns, I now understand almost nothing about American politics and have no idea what the election will bring. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the country is very big.

But two things I believed in 2017 still hold true:

Protecting the Census

The first is that we have to win the House in order to protect the census. Once every ten years, the Constitution requires us to count how many people live in the country. The next census will take place in 2020. The results of this count will used to apportion Congressional seats among the states for the decade to come.

While the Census Bureau has historically been professional and apolitical, it reports to the Commerce Department, and therefore ultimately to the President.

For a politician who doesn't mind violating norms, the census is an irresistible target. Rather than having to gerrymander hundreds of districts individually, a systematic undercount in heavily Democratic areas would give Republicans a structural advantage across all national elections that would endure for at least a decade. And any gerrymandering that took place on top of this would extend the structural advantage further.

Instead of a status quo where Democrats have to win elections by a 5-8% margin to come out even, Democrats could find they need to win by 10% or more just to achieve parity in Congressional elections.

There are many ways one could rig the census to deliver a lopsided result without breaking the law. I don't want to give good ideas to bad people, but your imagination is as good as mine, and I'm sure you can imagine the scenarios for yourself. The fact that the administration is pushing for a citizenship question on the census form shows that it is alive to the political possibilities here.

While Congress does not have direct authority to supervise the census, it has unparalleled investigative powers and a democratic mandate to use them in the national interest. It alone can hold the administration accountable, compel disclosure and testimony, and in extreme situations, impeach civil officers of the United States.

There is no constitutional mechanism for a do-over of a doctored census. We have to get it right, and the only way to make sure we get it right is to elect a Democratic Congressional majority in 2018.

Repudiating White Nationalism

The second reason this election is vital is that it will be our only chance to repudiate the return of open white nationalism to mainstream American politics.

Failing to win decisively in the first election after Trump's victory would ratify the tactics of division and open bigotry that he deployed with such success, and that have now consumed a Republican Party that showed some intial signs of resistance. Even if the President himself is defeated in 2020, a failure to win next week means such tactics will have proven themselves as an electoral weapon that brings no adverse consequences to those who deploy it.

The threat we face comes not from the President, but from a rising generation of politicians who have learned from him and who share none of the qualities—sloth, inattention, impulsiveness—that have prevented him from being effective. Politicians willing to adopt Trump's political tactics and use them with industry and skill will pose the gravest threat to American democracy in the years to come.

The only way to deter these ideologically flexible junior varsity authoritarians is to demonstrate to them at the ballot box that running on white nationalism in America leads to catastrophic defeat.

What We Have Tried To Do

The Great Slate is an attempt to increase our chances for victory by raising money for candidates in marginal districts, who would not otherwise have the money to mount a serious challenge.

By encouraging tech workers in places like San Francisco to make direct donations to Congressional campaigns, we have tried to help candidates from outside the political establishment who had talent and energy but lacked the connections to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, in districts where no national backing could be expected.

I presented this idea to skeptical candidates as the Dollar General strategy of campaign fundraising: we would go into districts where the big players wouldn't. The argument I made to donors was that no campaign in 2018 should lose for lack of money—the election was too important. Candidates might lose for all kinds of other reasons, but at least they would go down with some food in their belly, and lose to voters who had heard their name before they stepped in the ballot box.

There was no formal process for adding candidates. At first, I just winged it. I pored over FEC filings and traveled to anywhere I could get a meeting. Over time, some Great Slate Theory emerged. We looked for districts with a CPVI (a measure of political inclination) between R+4 and R+14, where a woman was running for office, the per-capita income was fairly low, the district was geographically large, and there was a significant disparity in fundraising between the candidate and her Republican opponent. We tried to favor candidates who would spend money on field organizing and local political infrastructure, rather than hand it to D.C. consultants who specialize in draining the campaign funds of novice candidates.

We raised nearly five million dollars!

Next week, we find out if the strategy worked. Any Great Slate victory outside of Maine (which has turned into a mainstream battleground race) will represent a free House seat, one that no one expected to win. We only need 23 seats for the majority, so a free seat goes a long way.

One outcome I did not expect was that fundraising would be a source of inspiration to the thousands of tech workers who participated in it. For many of us, taking part in the Great Slate was a way to exorcise the daily trauma of national politics, while feeling an unaccustomed sense of agency in our very, very blue districts, where the incumbent Democrat always wins by default, and our Federal vote means nothing.

Whatever else happens, we tried something!

If it doesn't work, we'll try other things.

If you would like to join our experiment, it's not too late to chip in. As I wrote in an earlier post, every campaign on the Great Slate is in a last-minute race to reach undecided voters. It takes about 24 hours for ActBlue to pay out money, and I estimate campaigns can usefully fundraise until November 3. Every dollar could make a difference even at this late date.

I have lots more to say about the Great Slate, the fundraising model it represents, and how we can build on the work we did together. But right now, we simply need to win, to protect the census and strike a blow against white nationalism.

If you can afford to help, please give our thirteen Great Slate candidates a final boost in the very last days of this race. Big or small, your donation will be part of a grand political experiment that we can be proud of, in a year that has given us so few opportunities to feel proud.

And once you have donated—vote, and tell everyone you know to vote, on November 6! Now is the time to rekindle those old friendships in strategic House districts. Talk to that aunt in Minnesota. Check to see if your first grade teacher retired to Florida, and find out how she's doing. Do whatever it takes to win!

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