We started People’s House Project because the Democratic Party has too long ignored the voices of the multiracial working class. The 2016 election proved this point. Vast numbers of frustrated working-class voters -- Democrats’ natural constituency – cast their ballots for Donald Trump, tipping the balance in key Midwestern and Appalachian states and winning the White House for Republicans.
For thirty years, with each election, working-class voters in the Heartland have drifted from their natural Democratic home, viewing the party as the domain of ‘coastal elites’ more than as an advocate of everyday people.
The result of that drift has been catastrophic for both the party and its former voters. Republicans have used the regional irrelevance of Democrats’ high-profile issues to disguise plutocratic economic policies that have left the entire middle of America behind.
Since Reagan, Democrats have polled well on individual economic issues, and then lost at the ballot box. Victorious Republicans have instituted their unpopular policies, resulting in wage stagnation, the atrophy of public services like education and transportation, and the concentration of wealth among the big shots who underwrite Republican campaigns.
The Democratic Party needs to reclaim those lost voters. Until it does, it will deserve its current banishment from power.
According to polling, words like “elitist” and “intolerant” are most commonly associated with the Democratic Party. It’s overwhelmingly clear that everyday working people – particularly in the Midwest and Appalachian states – feel the Democratic Party is not just out of touch, but openly scornful of their concerns and priorities.
We believe the only way to return the Democratic Party to relevance among those voters is to nominate candidates who understand the challenges working people face by first-hand experience, not because they read about it in the New York Times. They’re union members, teachers, veterans, cops, nurses, pink-collar workers, and others who share experiences with and speak the language of those who feel unheard in our donor-driven political system. They are beholden to the people of their districts, passionate and committed and unlikely to be captured by the monied interests who run Washington. Most importantly, they’re people who can get elected in places the party establishment has given up on, helping to not only win and sustain a majority in the House, but also redefine what people think of when they think of “Democrat”.
Uniquely Positioned to Make Change Happen
The People’s House Project (PHP) is a start-up political action committee based in Kentucky. It is focused entirely on finding and supporting the kind of candidates who can reclaim Republican-held Congressional seats in districts that have a tradition of Democratic representation.
To that end, PHP researches and identifies candidates that fit five standards. They are candidates who:
- Have first-person experience with the economic crisis
- Directly represent America’s diverse working class
- Are more connected to their community than to elites
- Will not make a good villain for the other side to campaign against
- Hold Progressive economic priorities central to their campaign
PHP’s activities are focused exclusively on candidates in Republican Congressional districts that need to be returned to the Democratic fold if the party is going to recapture the House.
There is no other political group developing the specialized knowledge, networks, and support mechanisms needed for the Democrats to compete in these districts, which are concentrated (though not exclusively) in the Appalachian states and Great Plains – in industrial cities, small towns, and broad rural stretches that share little but economic discontent and a sense that they don’t matter anymore.
Identify, Rebroadcast, Redefine
The PHP team specializes in industrial regions of the country where we have deep personal and professional ties. Our focus is the places that are ground-zero both for the economic transition that has decimated the working class and for the Democratic Party’s decline. PHP’s mission is to recruit and support Democratic middle- and working-class candidates who can win in districts currently help by Republicans.
There are several core activities to that end.
Candidate recruitment and identification is all about personal relationships and networks. Unique among progressive organizations, our entire team has lived and worked in the region so we are able to leverage an indispensable personal network. We also have regional Congressional support from members like John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Dan Kildee of Michigan, and Steve Cohen of Tennessee. We are on the ground making in-person visits with candidates, union locals, party officials, and activist organizations. We’re also collaborating with groups like The Arena, Emerge America, and New Leaders Council to help identify potential candidates.
PHP candidates have an authentic, working-class message in their districts honed by real-life experiences. Their difficulty is in getting those messages out to a broader public. Particularly at the early stages of the campaign, before the primaries when building name recognition is 90% of the game, PHP helps introduce its endorsed candidates to media, fundraising networks, and activist groups.
This “rebroadcasting” serves two purposes. First, providing a platform for message projection early, before races are cluttered with paid and earned messaging, provides a clear channel for PHP candidates to differentiate themselves from the mass of candidates. It is particularly important in places where establishment candidates are favored by default, because they are the only candidates with name recognition and media contacts. By elevating highly-qualified-but-unknown candidates into the public eye, PHP increases the chances that working-class candidates will capture the public imagination.
Second, by elevating endorsed candidates into the public eye, PHP opens fundraising and media channels that would otherwise be unavailable.
PHP is extremely hands-on in helping our candidates be heard. We pitch them to media outlets, leverage their social media interactions, introduce them to sources of funding, and help them position themselves to attract attention – all while encouraging them to be true to their roots.
The greatest barrier Democrats face in reclaiming the Midwest and Appalachian states is the image of the party as isolated from everyday life. To combat that – to, in effect, lay the groundwork for the party in 2018 and subsequent election cycles – PHP asserts a new paradigm of political leadership: working people as potential leaders.
To that end, we pursue an aggressive media strategy that leverages PHP President Krystal Ball’s extensive media access and relationships. Working with members of Congress, we have ghosted or co-written national op-eds to move the conversation in the direction of class-inclusiveness. We are preparing to expand this capability as funding permits, believing it to be one of our most important priorities.
Progress to Date
In less than one year, PHP has accomplished much. We have:
- Established crucial organizational infrastructure, including hiring a full-time president, executive director, and communications director
- Built working relationships with current members of Congress to support and mentor PHP candidates
- Secured a first round of national media coverage for the organization and/or its candidates by MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, The Atlantic, Vox, McClatchy, The Hill, Vice, and HLN
- Established the organization as credible conduit for Progressive fund-raising networks in Washington and on the West Coast to support and influence campaigns in districts abandoned by the Democratic Party
- Built a database of Democratic candidates and possible candidates in PHPs footprint
- Researched the backgrounds of and interviewed dozens of Democratic House candidates
- Established PHP as a reliable source of Op-Ed content for national and regional publications, including pieces co-authored with high-visibility politicians and activists
- Fully vetted and endorsed 12 exceptional candidates
- Provided hands on support and connections for our endorsed campaigns attracting national media, endorsements, and hard dollar contributions
People’s House Project was the first national organization to endorse Randy Bryce, helping elevate his campaign to unseat Paul Ryan into the national spotlight. Our candidate in West Virginia, Richard Ojeda, is becoming an electoral phenomenon. The publicity we garnered for J.D. Scholten, who is taking-on entrenched Tea Party mainstay Steve King, has propelled him to national visibility resulting in outstanding fund-raising and important political and celebrity endorsements.
In 11 states, PHP candidates are challenging the conventional wisdom that Democrats can’t compete in deep red districts. All have benefited from increased visibility, name recognition, media access, and introduction to donor networks the would not have had without PHP.
Looking Ahead -- Scaling Up
We’re building a strategy-driven organization that will have an impact on the 2018 election, working to identify and support candidates who can, with the right help, flip 8-10 Republican districts. In addition, we’re trying to establish PHP as a permanent presence in American politics, an organization whose endorsement and support imply certain things about a candidate: seriousness, talent, connection with their district’s base, and solid commitment to Progressive economic ideals.
PHP is perfectly positioned to have a significant impact on Congressional races off the establishment’s radar. If there is going to be the hoped-for Democratic wave in 2018, it is going to have to build in areas open to Progressive policies but put-off by the party’s current emphasis on issues irrelevant to working- and middle-class lives.
The organization will endorse one set of candidates before the primary, and a second set after the nominees are determined. We expect the number of endorsements to total 15-20 candidates.
The strategies we will use to accomplish our goals...
Establish PHP as the Authority in Its Territory
There are very active, very well-intentioned Democratic operatives for whom places like Morgan County, Ohio, might as well be Neptune. That’s fine; it’s not their job to understand the eccentricities of every jurisdiction in the Midwest and Appalachian states. It’s our job, and we are here to help them.
- Maintain a near-real-time feedback loop between the campaigns and PHP
- Drive. A lot. The rest of the world may think of PHP’s region as flyover country; we don’t. While time constraints will require PHP senior management to fly between cities, the organization’s default assumption is that its people will build their understanding of the region’s people by getting to know the back roads.
- Build the database. Every contact, every observation, every relevant article and broadcast should be captured and shared.
- Establish channels to capture information and insights from individual campaigns
Provide Services the Campaigns Will Value
PHP should build organizational infrastructure focused on services that benefit from economies of scale that deliver significant benefits but are impractical for the campaigns to maintain themselves.
- Provide campaign management and fund-raising software
- Sponsor fund-raising events that introduce candidates to national donors
- Provide media training to candidates and staff
- Establish a creative capability to professionalize the look and feel of materials for new campaigns not able to afford agency help
- Create and place mainstream media content elevating the candidates’ profiles
Never forget that the interests of the working- and middle-classes are more aligned than is generally thought. Lines of race, religion, and region matter less than the facts of the American economic, education, and healthcare systems.
- Practice active outreach to other organizations with missions that overlap with ours
- Hold regularly scheduled, online “round tables” consisting of representatives from each campaign, to share information and build understanding
Define and Protect the PHP Brand
The world, Walt Kelly said, is fraught with opportunity. A wise and focused organization chooses its next steps carefully. Brand is not simply a function of colors and fonts; it is an ethos that is baked into an organization’s culture, keeping message and behavior consistent and meaningful.
- Produce an introductory video with viral potential that will help define PHP to people in politics, the media, and the public
- Adhere to an established, objective candidate selection process
- Inculcate all hires with the strategic principles that guide PHP’s actions and goals, and make adherence to those principles a key definition of success or failure in the organization
- Establish smart and focused corporate governance that will question every decision, particularly those veering from established strategic principles
- Protect and defend all PHP intellectual property