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Democrats Training College Organizers for 2020

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Typical presidential candidates employ about 300 staffers nationwide by the end of the primary season, but once they earn the party’s nomination, they need to find roughly 2,700 more, Rachel Haltom-Irwin, Organizing Corps’ executive director, told me. Rather than hiring the typical crew of former Capitol Hill interns and kids with connections, campaign leaders will—the DNC hopes—have a full reserve of would-be hires to draw from, almost 80 percent of whom will come from communities of color; each will have gone through training on the basics of campaigning, from digital strategy to data collection to communication skills.

“We are looking at a possible scenario where we are going to win or lose by very thin margins in key battleground states,” said Haltom-Irwin, who was also the national get-out-the-vote director for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Campaigns often parachute into communities with paid organizing efforts just months or weeks ahead of a presidential election. The purpose of the new initiative, Haltom-Irwin said, is to recruit the best talent and get them to work early on. “We’re making sure they’re from the community and they look like the voters they’re organizing,” she added.

If the program works as intended, the trainees could ultimately constitute a significant share of campaign workers nationwide. “We’re saving [the nominee] time on hiring,” Haltom-Irwin said, “and time is the most precious resource on a campaign.”

But it’s still an if—that outcome, at present, is not a given. The DNC still has to figure out the program’s next steps, including how exactly students will be funneled into campaign jobs. And while officials have established that the process will run through the DNC, they aren’t guaranteeing that every single student will be able to secure employment on the eventual nominee’s campaign.

“But they do have a pretty good advantage,” says Brandon Gassaway, the DNC’s national press secretary, “as it is, essentially, a fellowship program sanctioned by the DNC for the same work they’d be doing as an organizer.” It’s “really an extra layer of experience that folks just starting out in their careers don’t typically have,” Gassaway adds.

When I spoke with students in between training sessions, they seemed excited to be part of the DNC’s efforts, even as they echoed criticisms of the party’s record.

“The Democratic Party took a hard look at 2016 and wanted to make sure that wasn’t repeated,” said the 21-year-old Julian Lehrer, a student at Arizona State University. The party needs young leaders to “rise through the ranks and lead us to victory” in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona, he said.

“It’s such a critical time for people to get involved, and I think we lost sight of that in the last election,” said Rafael Muñoz-Echavarria, a student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. The 22-year-old, who has never campaigned or otherwise been involved with the Democratic Party before, told me that Clinton’s failure to energize voters in Wisconsin in particular—where she lost to Trump by just 0.7 percent—was a topic at one of the group’s meetings that week. “People don’t feel engaged; they don’t feel like the political arena is accessible to them,” he said. “We’re here to do something about that.”

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