An Important Constituency

Posted November 12, 2003 at 6:53pm

Inspired by Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D-S.D.) hair-thin re-election victory in 2002, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will unveil its Native Vote 2004 Initiative today in a telephone news conference.

Johnson, co-chairman of the effort with Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), will be joined at the news conference by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is up for re-election in 2004, Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.), who is running for an open Senate seat next year, and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D), who is challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The initiative is designed to maximize Democratic turnout among American Indian voters in states where there is a substantial Indian or other native populations. The DSCC is calling it the most significant effort ever to reach out to American Indian voters.

“It really is a broad effort to empower Native Americans and to adopt them as a constituency in the Democratic Party, to let them know that they will have a voice in federal affairs,” said a person familiar with the DSCC program.

The committee’s interest in American

Indian voters was heightened after the 2002 South Dakota Senate election, which Johnson won by just 524 votes over then-Rep. John Thune (R). Johnson’s efforts to campaign among American Indians, register them to vote and turn them out on Election Day — particularly on reservations — are widely credited for his victory.

With this new initiative, the DSCC will be working with Democratic organizations in at least five states with significant Indian populations — Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington — to set up programs to reach Indian voters. The committee and the state parties will set up fundraising entities for this endeavor, and the state parties will determine how to spend the money and what aspect of getting out the vote should be emphasized.

The program could be expanded into other states.

Down on the Farm. The Progressive Majority Political Action Committee is announcing today a new program to recruit and train candidates to run for political office across the country.

The 2-year-old PAC, which has been raising and bundling money for liberal candidates, plans to set up shop in five states this cycle — and have a grand total of 15 by 2008 — where it will recruit and train candidates and work with like-minded organizations to build a liberal political network.

“The idea is to map out these races two, four, eight years down the road and do what we have to do to prepare,” said Gloria Totten, PROPAC president. “We want to be in those states and become a permanent part of the political infrastructure.”

For this cycle, the PAC has targeted Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, with Arizona and Florida also under consideration.

“We’re looking for states that are perpetual presidential battleground states, where we need to gain the upper hand,” Totten said. “These are states that are closely fought for control of the Legislature, where we need to get candidates in the pipeline and work with labor, women’s groups and enviros.”

PROPAC is in the process of hiring state directors for its operations and will send them out in the field in January 2004.

“The project is a value for donors because the cost goes down exponentially as we expand,” Totten said.

The group estimates it will cost $2.6 million to set up operations in five states, $4.1 million to be in 10 states, and $5.5 million to be in 15.

The program is reminiscent of work being done by another liberal organization, 21st Century Democrats. But while 21st Century Democrats identify and aid upcoming liberal political candidates, part of that group’s mission is to train the political operatives of the future by assigning them to the designated campaigns.

“There’s synergy” between the organizations, Totten said.