Sonoma County campaigners fan out to swing election in Democrats’ favor

President Donald Trump’s election two years ago made Santa Rosa resident Gloria Bealer despondent, but also determined to help the liberal candidates she supports rebound politically.

“I was very depressed. I was sick. I literally was beside myself, because it’s not the results that I wanted to see,” said Bealer, a 71-year-old retired hairstylist. “So I started looking for something to do.”

She ran across an inventive campaign effort online and began writing personalized postcards to individual voters around the country, urging them to vote for Democrats in key races, including Doug Jones’ successful bid for a Senate seat in Alabama’s ?2017 special election.

As other liberal Sonoma County activists learned about what Bealer was doing, they told her they wanted to join.

So she began hosting regular postcard-writing sessions at Round Table Pizza in Montgomery Village. At first, about ?10 people showed up, but in later meetings attendance grew to about 15, then 20 people. One time, the crowd soared to ?68 people, Bealer said.

In all, volunteers wrote about 9,500 postcards ahead of the primary election and more than 31,000 for the general election, mostly in Republican-controlled California congressional districts Democrats hope to flip in their favor.

“We’re tying to stop our country from becoming an authoritarian country, but we’re trying to do it in the most honest and best way we can,” Bealer said. “Everybody needs to vote.”

Bealer is far from alone in her efforts to reach outside of her home county and state to sway voters and swing pivotal races across the nation. With a field of Democratic incumbents sailing to re-election to represent Sonoma County in Sacramento and Washington, scores of politically outgoing local residents are signing on to help in races in other areas, either remotely or in person.

Leading the charge are local branches of larger organizations, including the Democratic Party, Indivisible and Swing Left, as well as the Sister District Project, which is focusing on state legislative races across the country.

Some initiatives, including Bealer’s postcard-?writing project, are organized independently, but they share a common goal: to encourage high voter turnout that activists hope will help usher in a Democratic wave to counteract Trump and his allies.

Like Bealer, Santa Rosa resident Christine Byrne has been distraught about national affairs since the 2016 election. This year, she felt compelled to become more politically involved than ever.

Byrne, a 29-year-old teacher, was deeply alarmed when Trump’s administration began separating thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the country’s southern border. The students in her classes come from Santa Rosa’s predominantly Latino Roseland neighborhood, so the controversy struck a personal chord.

“When our politicians decided to lock up children, and lock up immigrant children, that is something that I’m so deeply, morally opposed to,” Byrne said. “And especially working with the population that I work with, which is mainly immigrant families, it ... has just hit so close to home.”

When Byrne’s friend told her about an opportunity to canvass in support of Josh Harder, a Central Valley Democrat hoping to unseat incumbent Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, she jumped on board.

She has since traveled twice to Manteca, east of Tracy, to knock on doors and encourage voters to back Harder, whose election could help Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

While canvassing, Byrne has typically not offered up the fact that she is from a different county, but it did come up a few times.

“It’s almost more impactful than being from their community, because they’re like, ‘Wow, this person drove two and a half hours. Obviously, this matters. It’s kind of a big deal,’” she said.

Back at home, the Sonoma County Democratic Party has also thrown support behind Harder. The party has organized phone banks and has been sending text messages to voters - a breakout strategy of the 2018 election cycle - to support him and other candidates, including Andrew Janz, the Democrat competing against Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, a staunch Trump ally.

The party also planned to send a bus full of volunteers today to support Jessica Morse, the Democrat trying to unseat Tom McClintock, the veteran Republican congressman whose district stretches from the outskirts of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.

“We’re in full force here,” said Laurie Gallian, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Democratic Party.

While local Democrats have often lent their support to closer races in other areas over the years, Gallian said “this election is like no other” and stressed the need for high voter turnout to rebalance political power in the nation.

“We are in the midst of probably making one of the biggest decisions for how we can turn the tide on quality of life in America,” Gallian said. “These (candidates) are people who have supporters behind them and voters behind them that are motivated by their ideals and what they stand for.”

Sonoma County has long been a Democratic stronghold, accounting for about 52 percent of the ?274,317 people registered to vote as of Friday, according to county elections officials. Political independents are the next largest group, at 67,552 voters. Republicans number third-largest at 49,798 registered voters.

Edelweiss Geary, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Republican Party, has not been surprised to see her Democratic counterparts channel some of their efforts elsewhere.

“Sure, they can afford to do that, because the registration here is so high,” Geary said. “They don’t have to worry about Mike Thompson’s seat or Jared Huffman’s seat. That would be a waste of time, calling for them.”

Geary said she and other Sonoma County conservatives have been walking neighborhoods and leaving door hangers on homes of local Republicans, encouraging them to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

“We want Republicans to get out and vote,” Geary said. “If you don’t vote, I don’t think you have any right to complain about anything.”

Much of the out-of-county organizing for Democrats is happening outside the party apparatus, though there’s often overlap.

Sonoma County’s chapter of the national organization Swing Left, which is focused on helping Democrats take back the House of Representatives, dispatched 85 people to swing districts in the state this weekend.

Most of the canvassing effort is concentrated on the district where Harder is running, with 60 Swing Left volunteers traveling there, while another ?25 people went to ?Southern California.

Among the latter group was Santa Rosa resident Susan Milstein.

After the 2016 election, she joined the ranks of Indivisible Sonoma County, the local version of a national progressive network formed in the wake of Trump’s rise to the presidency. Through her involvement in Indivisible, Milstein learned of Bealer’s separate postcard-writing campaign and decided to participate.

When she learned of Swing Left’s exclusive focus on battleground House districts she decided to join that effort, too.

Milstein and her husband flew Thursday from Santa Rosa to Orange County, another key battleground in Democrats’ attempt to regain their House majority. Milstein spent hours Friday going door to door in support of Democrat Katie Porter, who is working to unseat Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine.

“We’ve reached a few people who really were undecided, so we feel like we’re making a difference,” Milstein said. “Obviously, some people say ‘I voted and didn’t vote for her,’ or ‘I’m not planning to vote for her,’ and we say, ‘OK, thank you very much.’ We definitely feel like it’s been worthwhile.”

Karen D’Or, a co-founder of Swing Left Sonoma County, said a recent survey of the national Swing Left group’s most active volunteers found 73 percent of them were women and about ?40 percent had never volunteered for a candidate before the 2018 election.

D’Or volunteered for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns as well as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run, but this is this the first time she’s been so involved in a midterm election. The enthusiasm of those around her is “pretty darn close” to the level of excitement around Obama’s 2008 candidacy, she said.

“It’s really becoming a midterm election on the scale of a presidential election,” D’Or said.

Larry Martin, a Sebastopol resident who leads Indivisible Sonoma County’s out-of-district team, is trying to channel that energy into flipping as many of California’s ?14 Republican-held congressional districts as possible. He and other like-minded activists have been working in partnership with groups such as Swing Left and the Democratic Party in their efforts, but they’ve also hosted some of their own phone banking and text messaging sessions.

Martin has not previously been involved in political organizing. The outcome of the 2016 election changed that, with the stakes this year higher than ever, he said.

“It’s incredibly important that we at least take back the House, which we have a really good chance of doing,” he said. “Otherwise, in my darker moods, (I think) it’s possibly the last election we’ll ever have.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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