Democratic group eyes $50 million effort to elect STEM candidates to House, Senate

314 Action says grassroots network has grown to nearly 6 million

Marchers including Bill Nye the Science Guy, center, lead the March for Science down Constitution Avenue in Washington on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Marchers including Bill Nye the Science Guy, center, lead the March for Science down Constitution Avenue in Washington on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 4, 2021 at 6:02am

A group backing Democratic candidates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math is looking to raise and spend $50 million in the 2022 midterms, listing two open Senate seats as top priorities. 

The group, 314 Action, is aiming to recruit candidates with STEM backgrounds in seven Senate races and 39 House races, according to a list of targets shared first with CQ Roll Call. 314 Action’s executive director, Joshua Morrow, said the group will be especially focused on Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate races, where GOP Sens. Rob Portman and Patrick J. Toomey are retiring.

“Those two Senate races are our top priority for the organization,” Morrow said. 

Morrow said 314 Action is expanding its team and reaching out to potential candidates with STEM backgrounds. The group was first founded in the summer of 2016 by Shaughnessy Naughton, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Pennsylvania, with the goal of bringing candidates with scientific backgrounds to Congress. 

The group was active in 2018 in recruiting and supporting STEM candidates, and expanded its effort in 2020. Morrow said the group’s grassroots network, which directs donations to endorsed candidates, has grown from 400,000 members at the end of the 2018 election cycle to nearly 6 million today. The group also bolsters its candidates through its independent expenditure arm, which spent $11.4 million in the 2020 cycle.

Morrow said 314 Action’s goal for 2022 is to raise and spend $50 million. The group also takes sides in primaries and is willing to spend to bolster preferred candidates. 

“We feel like that's where we have the most strength because a lot of these outside groups shy away from primaries,” Morrow said. “And we know that if we don't get involved in primaries with our candidates, they're not going to get through the primary.”

Morrow said the group is looking at endorsing candidates in two upcoming special elections. 

On Wednesday the group endorsed state Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a former science teacher and researcher running in New Mexico’s 1st District. That special election has not been set since Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland is awaiting confirmation to be the next Interior Secretary.

Morrow said the group could also weigh in on the May 1 special election in Texas’ 6th District to replace the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright, who died of complications from COVID-19. Democrat Shawn Lassiter, a former science teacher, recently launched her campaign there. Candidates from all parties will compete in the jungle primary. If no one wins a majority of the vote, the race heads to a runoff. 

Aside from the special elections, Morrow said the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate races are two of the group’s top priorities in 2022. In Ohio, Amy Acton, the former head of the Ohio Department of Health, is considering a run. She became well known throughout the state as a leader of the state’s pandemic response.

In Pennsylvania, Val Arkoosh, the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners who is also a physician, and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and engineer, are both considered potential Senate candidates. 

The group is also targeting an open Senate race in North Carolina, and Senate races in Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin.

The lengthy list of House targets include six in California, where Republicans in 2020 won back some of the seats they lost in 2018, and nine in Texas, where Democrats came up short in a number of races in 2020. The House battleground is in flux due to delayed reapportionment and redistricting. California, for example, is expected to lose a congressional seat, while Texas could gain House seats. 

But Morrow said the group has to start recruiting candidates before that process is complete. 

“There's no way that we can wait until 2022 to recruit,” Morrow said. “I mean, we just wouldn't find credible candidates and we'd be way behind.”