While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will both be spending election night in New York, Bernie Sanders will be on the other side of the country, making a last-ditch effort to carry Proposition 61, a California ballot initiative that would bar the state from paying more for medicine than the Veterans Administration, across the finish line.
“This isn’t national health care,” says Larry Cohen, who chairs the board of Our Revolution, the group designated by Sanders to carry forward the values that fueled his presidential bid. “It isn’t even Medicare for All. But for us, and for Bernie personally, it’s important to show that we can get something like this accomplished.”
“This is about the power of the grassroots versus the power of money,” says Shannon Jackson, Our Revolution’s executive director. “Before Big Parma started dumping money into television, the polls in California were 87 percent in favor” of the initiative, he says. But after an estimated $120 million spent on negative advertising, the race has become much closer.
A lot has been written about the “Sanders effect” in close congressional races, where his backing has helped power candidates such as Russ Feingold, Pramila Jayapal, and Zephyr Teachout. Much less attention has been paid, however, to the dozens of down-ballot races where an expenditure of just a few thousand dollars can make the difference between a hopeless cause and a viable campaign. “Our real focus is down ballot,” says Cohen.
“The OurRevolution.org site launched on August 24,” says Jackson. “Since then we’ve raised over $1.3 million.” In Rhode Island, the group’s backing helped Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a Providence school teacher, defeat John DeSimone, a 24-year incumbent and former majority leader of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, in the primary. “Marcia led Rhode Islanders for Bernie,” said Jackson. “And this let her take on—and defeat—a corporate Democrat who was very close to Wall Street.”
In Oregon, the group has raised over $12,000 for Brad Avakian, a candidate for secretary of state who is committed to reforming the state’s campaign finance system, and expanding voter access through automatic voter registration and same-day registration.
The race for Maricopa Country recorder is another where Our Revolution is hoping a relatively modest amount—$12,815 in small donations—will make a big difference for candidate Adrian Fontes. “We saw so many problems with voting during the Arizona primary,” says Jackson. “Here’s a candidate with good politics, a great platform, dedicated to protecting voting rights—and with a good chance of winning.”
During the primary campaign Sanders often stated “real change has to come from the bottom up.” In applying that maxim, Our Revolution has backed candidates like Sabrina Shrader, running for state representative in West Virginia. Originally, says Jackson, Shrader “was only anticipating being able to afford a few flyers and maybe some yard signs. But with $19,000 from Our Revolution she’s been able to wage a genuinely competitive campaign.”