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.