In This Episode
How can Democrats turn out new voters? We talk about expanding the electorate with Stacey Abrams and spend time with organizers and occasional voters in Florida.
Jon Favreau conducts a focus group in Miami with disaffected occasional voters.
Patrick Penn: Excuse me. You all registered to vote? How are you doing, man? All right, all right. You registered to vote? All right.
Jon Favreau: The man trying to register voters is Patrick Pen, a voter registration coordinator with an organization called The New Florida Majority, that’s trying to mobilize the state’s diverse communities ahead of the next election. This is important work that needs to happen in every state, but especially in the southeastern battlegrounds. If a record number of Black and brown voters can register, show up and have their ballots counted in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, they could very well deliver the presidency and the Senate to Democrats in 2020. Today, the Southeast is being shaped by many of the same political and demographic trends that have transformed the southwestern battlegrounds we covered in the last episode. The cities and surrounding suburbs are growing, they’re becoming younger and more diverse, and they’re home to college-educated voters who are increasingly rejecting Trump’s Republican Party. And while white voters in the Southeast have always been more conservative than their counterparts in the Southwest, the region also has a larger, faster growing population of Black voters than anywhere else in the country. That’s a big reason why Andrew Gillum came so close to becoming the first Black governor of Florida in 2018.
[news clip] Republican Ron DeSantis beat out his Democrat opponent, Andrew Gillum, by 0.8%. Jeez, these are such tight races—
Jon Favreau: And the same is true of the woman you’ll be hearing from quite a bit in this episode.
[clip]: Under the watch of the now former Secretary of State, democracy failed Georgia. So let’s be clear, this is not a speech of concession, because a concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper.
Jon Favreau: In 2020, Florida will play its role as the perennial presidential battleground of all battlegrounds. It will likely be joined by North Carolina, where there will also be a competitive Senate race, and for the first time, Georgia, where there will also be two competitive Senate races. To win, democrats will have to build on what candidates like Stacey Abrams did: register a lot of people who don’t often vote, persuade them to turn out on Election Day, and overcome all the obstacles that have been put in place to make it harder for Black and brown voices to be heard. It won’t be easy, but thanks to Abrams, Gillum, and organizers like Patrick, we have a roadmap to follow. I’m Jon Favreau. Welcome to The Wilderness.
Patrick Penn: You already registered to vote? You already registered, up to date and everything. Good to hear that. Hey, use that. Use your strength. Use your voice.
Jon Favreau: Patrick Penn is walking around the mostly Black Overtown neighborhood of Miami.
Patrick Penn: I do voter registration and I basically help the community.
Jon Favreau: Patrick’s especially passionate about the right to vote, since he knows what it’s like not to have it.
Patrick Penn: Because I’m an ex-felon, you know, I’m, I’m a returning citizen, I should say really. But, yeah, when the Amendment 4 got passed, I basically heard about: OK, now returning citizens can go and get their rights restored and get their voter registration card because of Amendment 4. I said I want to basically go and get registered to vote, because your voice definitely does count, you know, especially within your community.
Jon Favreau: Florida’s Amendment 4 was a 2018 ballot referendum that restores voting rights for individuals convicted of a felony who finished their time behind bars. It was a huge victory. If all returning citizens in the state of Florida registered to vote, that would bring 1.4 million new voters onto the rolls. Of course, the Republicans who control the Florida state House know this, which is why they quickly passed a law that requires all returning citizens to pay certain court fines and fees before registering to vote. Basically, a poll tax. The law would make it a felony to register without paying the fees, and it’s being challenged in court. But in the meantime, it’s confused and scared off a lot of potential new voters, which was sort of the point.
Patrick Penn: You know, matter of fact, maybe a week ago I ran into a guy I actually was incarcerated with, and was like: wow, man I know you, come here. We hugged and it was like: hey man, what’s going on, this and that? And, and it was like: hey, man, you need, are you registered to vote? He was like: what, I can’t register to vote.
Jon Favreau: The Republican response to Amendment 4 is just one of the many voter suppression tactics that make it harder for people to cast their ballot, especially people of color. But Patrick has also discovered that it’s not just laws themselves that are preventing people from voting.
Jon Favreau: And generally, I would see it being more Black that’s not registered, young Black man, you know, for the most part. And that’s for the typical reasons why: you don’t want names involved with anything with the government. It’s frustrating because it’s like, wow, you have your rights, you know, and you can really take advantage and use that in a powerful level and you just choose to remain dormant. You know, it’s like he’s just sitting there, and people died for us to be able to vote, you know?
Cornell Belcher: This is the underbelly of voter suppression, that is tougher to shine a light on, the mental impact that it’s having. How their vote doesn’t matter and how, you know, what’s the point when they’re going to do what, what they what they want to do anyway?
Jon Favreau: Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster who worked for Barack Obama. He told me that on a lot of his focus groups in southern states like Georgia and Florida, he’s been hearing people express a deep cynicism about voting in politics that surprised him.
Cornell Belcher: And I got to tell you, I haven’t heard that sort of length of conversation about their vote not mattering and how the system is rigged since Gore-Bush from Florida. There’s a large swath of the electorate that thinks they’re not counting the votes, or people are working actively to stop them from voting. And when you look at a place like Florida or Georgia, shaving off 2 or 3% of African-American turnout is a difference between winning and losing, and not even close.
Jon Favreau: I wanted to explore this further. So for our southeastern focus group, we sat down with a group of voters who don’t get enough attention: people who cast their ballot for Barack Obama in 2012 but then didn’t vote in 2016, or voted for a third-party candidate. An analysis by Data for Progress found that while 9% of Obama 2012 voters went for Donald Trump in 2016, 7% percent of Obama voters stayed home, and another 3% voted for a third party candidate. These voters are disproportionately younger and people of color. Most of the voters in our focus group were also Black or Latino, and their views about politics generally track with what Patrick and Cornell have been hearing.
Jon Favreau: How would you say that politics makes you feel right now?
woman: It’s comedy for me.
man: From both sides.
man: Sometimes I doesn’t even want to watch it.
Jon Favreau: All right, let’s go, let’s go one at a time. We can go around because I know a lot of people have opinions and this one.
man: It’s gut wrenching, just not knowing what’s going on. There’s always something going on. That’s the thing. It’s always changing is kind of like: ugh, what today, you know, what’s going to happen, you know.
different man: Nah, to me is the way—I’ve been, I’ve been here since 1968 and went to different crisis’s here in the US, and I’ve never seen politicians act the way they act now on both sides.
Jon Favreau: And how are they acting?
man: Like kids. Because any news station, any news station you go to MSN, Fox, whatever, the whole, everything that’s happened seems like it’s a joke to them. The way they present it, it’s like a joke. And there’s a comedy thing, it’s not being serious and really taking this serious— this is something serious.
different man: Yeah, no, it’s this development of fake news, and no one trusts each other. It’s snippet talks. You know, they’re, the politicians are just trying to get on Twitter for a blurb. There’s no, there’s no real talk about the issues. It’s all about—.
man: Yeah. Ratings. You know, you have one side against the other. They talk for two minutes. Nothing gets solved. And you move on to the next topic. There’s no compromise anymore. There’s no smart talk. There’s no one there being a leader.
Jon Favreau: Thinking about the last election you voted in, what are the reasons you chose to vote?
woman: I wanted to make a difference.
Jon Favreau: You wanted to make a difference.
Jon Favreau: And you thought—in what way did you think—
same woman: My thought process, is I’m going to still vote, whether the votes are stolen or lost or whatever the case may be. I’m going to make you work to get what you want. I’m going to vote. And if you want to steal the votes or do whatever you’re going to have to do it. So I wanted to make a difference.
Jon Favreau: Anyone else?
woman: I was trying to avoid Trump getting in and thought my vote counted.
Jon Favreau: That was in ’16?
same woman: But look how we were.
man: I skipped that one. I didn’t like neither, I didn’t like neither candidate.
Jon Favreau: It’s not that these voters are apathetic, they brought up all kinds of issues that they clearly care about, everything from health care and education to housing prices and police brutality. They just don’t really see how a lot of these problems get solved by voting.
Stacey Abrams: For most of these communities the politicians that have been elected, whether they participated or not, have not changed the outcomes of their lives.
Jon Favreau: That’s Stacey Abrams, whose acute understanding of this reality guided her 2018 campaign to become governor of Georgia, a campaign where she was denied victory by just 54,000 votes out of four million, in an election that was rife with voter suppression. But what Stacey achieved is historic. Cornell Belcher again:
Cornell Belcher: If you look at what happened in Georgia in 2018, I think you’re seeing the fruition of some of what we were thinking and seeing in 2012. If you tap the, the voters in Georgia who are sporadic, are not participating, and you increase registration in Georgia, you can really put Georgia in play. Stacy came really close, and that wasn’t because of vote switching, that was primarily because of expanding the electorate.
Stacey Abrams: We increased the youth participation rates in Georgia in 2018 by 139%.
Jon Favreau: Wow.
Stacey Abrams: We increased African-American participation by 40%. But to put that in context, in 2014, 1.1 million Democrats voted for governor, on the Democratic side. 2018 1.2 million Black people voted for me. This is something I accomplished raising 42 million dollars, which is a fraction of what often goes in to presidential campaigns.
Jon Favreau: Despite the narrow loss, Stacy pulled off an incredible feat. So I sat down with her to learn more about how she did it.
Jon Favreau: So I want to start with your race in 2018 at the beginning. You win a competitive primary. There hasn’t been a Democratic governor of Georgia in over a decade at that point. There’s never been a Black woman governor anywhere. But you’re looking at a state that Trump only won by five points in 2016. What are those early meetings like with your strategist—what’s the strategy for winning Georgia at the outset?
Stacey Abrams: Our campaign from the very beginning believe that you had to center communities of color. You had to lift up the issues facing the marginalized and the disadvantaged. But that we also had to be very intentional about going into white enclaves, places where Democrats had often given up hope or where we presumed that they didn’t expect to see me. But we not only had me show up, we’d advertise there. We were probably the only Democratic campaign to be on country radio. Now, we also did the same thing in urban areas and rural areas that were predominately Black. We did our best to reach every single community.
Jon Favreau: Can you talk about—I know you guys made a decision to not do the usual thing that Democratic campaigns and consultants want you to do, which is spend all of your money on TV and radio, but you really invested a lot in sort of a voter registration and voter turnout program.
Stacey Abrams: So in the primary, we began building towards the general by recognizing that the first mistake that we could make was taking voters out of the pool. Because often you’re told to look for super voters, midterm voters—you are told to sort of sift out your voter opportunities. And when you do that, when you score your voters and say, well, these people will never vote for me because they don’t vote, or they’ll never vote for me because they voted this way too many times, it’s self-fulfilling. You will never get voters you don’t talk to you. And so we began by creating the largest universe of possible voters. The second thing we did was realize that you had to talk to them, and that these are voters who probably were not going to be watching television early. They weren’t going to be listening to the radio. They needed a conversation. And so we started building our field program in June and July of 2017 for an election that would be in November of 2018. And because of that, we were able to knock on doors and have thoughtful conversations months in advance of both the primary and the general.
Jon Favreau: Can you talk a little bit about what that field program looked like and sounded like with those conversations, because you couldn’t be everywhere so you had this whole team of people talking.
Stacey Abrams: In fact, at the beginning, they didn’t talk about me. We did our first pass of organizing by having people ask: what do you need, how can we help? So part of my ethos as a, as a state legislator, as Democratic leader, was that my team, we had a slogan, like when someone called the office, your job was to say: how can I help? Not to pass them off to someone else, not to say it’s my job. Your job is to figure it out. Our campaign was built around the same idea and we spent more, as we raise more money, we spent more money in field. We did some of the traditional things: we eventually went on TV, we did digital. But field had to be the baseline because if you didn’t get to the people and have the conversation about why their vote would matter, all of the advertising in the world wouldn’t matter because they would they would essentially ignore it.
Jon Favreau: Can you talk about the challenges of expanding the electorate, which you certainly did in Georgia?
Stacey Abrams: So I want to touch on two things. I want to make sure people understand the difference between a swing voter and a low propensity voter: a swing voter tends to go back and forth between political ideology; a low propensity voter says it’s not worth participating so I’m just going to stay home. And they tend to only vote usually in presidential elections. We had to deal with both groups, although swing voters are a much smaller group and that’s one of the issues in the South. You don’t have a lot of swing voters in the South, but you have a lot of low propensity voters who tried it once, it didn’t work, they gave up. Or their parents tried it once, and so each generation someone ventures out, sees the sun, nothing changes, they go back inside. So before I ran for governor, I started an organization called the New Georgia Project because Georgia had at the time in 2014, 800,000 unregistered people of color. And so New Georgia Project registered all these voters. But the reality is the hardest to register populations are also going to be the hardest to turnout. Those low propensity registrants usually have a 20% likelihood of voting once you get them on the rolls. And for those low propensity voters, it’s not simply about getting them on the rolls, it’s making sure they understand how voting works. And so part of what we call voter registration is also, voter education. It’s connecting the dots between getting that card and someone teaching you how to use it. It’s like giving someone a license to drive, but without ever teaching them how to turn the car on. And so we tried to correlate those two.
Jon Favreau: So I for this project, did four different focus groups. The one that I did in the Southeast was in Miami. And I spoke to Obama voters who either sat out in ’16 or voted third party. And it was a pretty diverse group of voters. And what I got from them more than anything, was sort of a deep disgust with politics in general.
Stacey Abrams: But we have to remember that for a lot of these communities, it is a tendency to not vote one) because they don’t know what they’re voting for and they’d rather not make a mistake than make mistake. They have a deep distaste for politicians because these are people who come to their neighborhoods to ask for a vote but never come back to deliver on their promises. And three), they feel duped because they had faith, they had hope, they participated and it didn’t work. Part of what we tried to do with our campaign was acknowledge that, to begin the conversation with: look, this isn’t about just electing a single person, this is about what change do you want, so let’s talk about what that change could look like and why you might want to have it. And so instead of offering sort of a laundry list of opportunities, what we tried to do with our field work, and we tried to reinforce that with digital campaigns where we talk to voters and had them talk about their issues, it was to say: look, I understand the real impact that this has on you. We talked to domestic workers who could not take care of their families because if they live too far out, they didn’t have access to public transit, so they couldn’t get to the jobs. We talked to entrepreneurs who couldn’t get access to capital because they lived in communities where the bank shut down during the recession and never came back. And so we tried to find real examples that weren’t so pablum that it’s the same thing everyone complains about.
Jon Favreau: Jobs and health care.
Stacey Abrams: Exactly. We talked about here’s what happens in Hancock County when this thing happens. And by doing so and by starting so early and by having real people have the conversation, it penetrated. And I think that’s one of the successes that I had. I didn’t have to be the person talking. In fact, I shouldn’t have been the person. Because when it’s the politician, it’s about getting a vote for me. But when it’s someone who’s from your neighborhood, someone from your community, then it becomes real. And what we did intentionally was hire locally. We had more than a thousand people that we hired across the state, but we were very thoughtful about making sure they were hired from within the community. We didn’t bus people in from Atlanta down to Albany. We hired in Albany, and more importantly, we hired in Pooler, we hired in Raybon. We made sure that we were talking to people from community about community so that their connection to the vote was real and authentic.
Jon Favreau: So you’re talking to the next Democratic nominee for president and her or his campaign manager. What’s your best case for why they should play big in Georgia?
Stacey Abrams: Because Georgia has the youngest population of a battleground state, we have the highest percentage of African-Americans of a battleground state, and we’ve proven that both communities will turn out. It’s 16 electoral votes. It’s two Senate seats. It is the ability to win a state house by flipping 16 seats, which we can do because we flipped 11 in 2018. You do that, you’ve now added at least two new congressional seats to the tally after redistricting. Those are things that you need long term. And Georgia, we package them up and we were really cheap date.
Jon Favreau: As Stacey says, expanding the electorate isn’t easy. Just because people who tend to stay home are more likely to look like Democrats, just because they tend to be young, Black and brown doesn’t mean that their political views are aligned with Democratic activists, or even regular Democratic voters. They’re more skeptical of politicians and more disappointed with politics in general. But we also know that these people can be persuaded to vote if organizers and candidates are willing to show up and listen to their concerns, and not just a few weeks before the election either. We heard this from Stacey Abrams, from Christine Marsh in Arizona, and from Angela Aldous in Pennsylvania. It’s a strategy that’s also being put to good use in another southeastern battleground, Florida. We’ll find out how after the break.
Jon Favreau: In order to win in 2020, Democrats need to take a page out of the Stacey Abrams playbook and do the long, hard work of making sometimes voters, always voters. Often that means meeting people where they live, both literally and metaphorically. Rosy Gonzalez Speers, who spent time as the executive director of Forward Florida Action, a nonprofit founded by Andrew Gillum in the wake of 2018, knows this to be true.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: I really believe that all politics is local, and in the conversations that I’ve had with folks and that we have here, the best way to show that it matters is when you can point to a local decision that has impacted them. So just a few days ago, we were speaking with some organizers. They were saying that they are on the doors, and that they’re having a really hard time getting folks to understand the importance of voting. And what we have said is: well, tell us about what’s happening in the community that you’re trying to register voters. So there’s a community essentially being gentrified, folks are being priced out, and there’s a lot of meetings taking place—so if we’re able to say: well, you know, who makes that decision? Your local mayor is the one that needs to sign off on that. You need to register to vote so that you can vote for that person, that you have a say in who that person is. That is really how we overcome the cynicism on the ground, is by making it hyper local.
Jon Favreau: One group that’s doing just that is New Florida Majority, which you heard about at the top of the episode with Patrick. Across town in the community of Doral, we caught up with Gina Romero, who’s helping organize the Venezuelan community there. Gina spoke with our field producer, Virginia Lora, who translated her interview into English.
Translation of Gina Romero: [Spanish] So I lived in Doral for the past 14 years. It’s a really nice community. And I’ve seen how it’s grown over the past several years, especially since the new wave of Venezuelans arrived. You know, many of them bringing with them, or opening new businesses here. [spanish] So every month we do a gathering with the residents of the Doral community and basically we’re helping the community so that every day it becomes more and more engaged: going to city hall, going to the commission and talking to them, right? So that they feel and they realize that their problems can be expressed, and that they will be listened to, that their voices will actually be heard.
Jon Favreau: One local problem that nearly everyone in the community can agree upon is an issue you probably won’t hear about from any of the presidential candidates: garbage. Specifically the Medley landfill, which residents have taken to calling Mount Trashmore.
Translation of Gina Romero: [spanish] Lately the smell of trash has become more concentrated. It’s unbearable. But now the contract with the trash company is coming to an end. But we’ve learned that they want to extend it. And on top of that, they want to increase the dump height. We said: oh my God, no more. [spanish] And that’s when we went: you know, let’s take action, we have to do something. And so we took it. We called out the community. We went to city hall. We spoke with the mayor. Many mothers were there. They stated their cases of their kids who are sick, and of how the smell of trash was impacting their day-to-day lives. You know, kids who are cooped up at home because it can’t, they want to go outside, they want to play in the park, play soccer. But because of the constant smell, they can’t.
woman: This is disgusting. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to be visiting the doctors like every month. We need pure air.
[spanish] We have to get a solution, you know, because we have a lot of kids in this city.
Translation of Gina Romero: [spanish] And that’s really how you begin to awaken in people that desire to participate in a democracy, so that a person doesn’t take things with indifference and doesn’t keep thinking: oh, I don’t care what the government does with me.
Jon Favreau: Gina and her fellow organizers saw this local problem as an opportunity to engage people in activism and politics that went beyond Mount Trashmore.
Translation of Gina Romero: In fact, after we had that city council meeting, you could see on the social media networks, the community now asking questions, you know, about a particular streetlight that wasn’t working, like, OK, is that a county problem or a city problem? And you see where the community is now raising questions like: why do we vote for politicians who don’t do anything for us? [spanish] So that is the nice thing: you are awakening in them a curiosity about a just democracy, right? Who is the public official that you really want for you, for your community, for the place where you live? And so, like from there, you take the next step to see who is the governor that you want, the president that you want, and you see how you begin to awaken in the community an interest for those issues. [spanish] And then what I say all the time is that these small issues, local issues, those are the ones that have the biggest impact on our lives because they are the issues of our day-to-day. [spanish] And you see, because you were indifferent during a vote and you allowed a politician to get away with not doing anything, that’s when you, as years go by, you think to yourself: we should have voted for this person who really would have done something to improve traffic or to improve the quality of life. And basically, it’s a lesson that you give people. Unconsciously, people begin to realize and they begin to wake up. [spanish]
Jon Favreau: This is especially important work to do in Doral, a community that swung towards Republicans by 20 points between 2016 and 2018, erasing that deficit in 2020 seems like a daunting challenge, but Rosy Gonzalez Speers doesn’t want Democrats to give up on Florida.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: I think that national Democrats continue to underestimate how likely it is that we can win Florida. People kind of discount, and they write off Florida. They’ll say: oh, I don’t know, I don’t think we’re going to win Florida, we have to figure out how to piece together Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And I just always say: look at the numbers. I mean, this state, if we do the work early here, there is no reason why Democrats don’t win in here. We just have to put in the work and we have to do it all. If the Latino community shows up, we will win this state.
Jon Favreau: That, of course, is a big if.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: I will say the starkest thing for me when I saw the numbers was Latinos. 2016 Hillary Clinton got 64% of the Latino vote here. In 2018, Andrew Gillum received 47% of the Latino vote. That is huge.
Jon Favreau: Those numbers are one sign of a larger, pretty troubling trend. In recent years, Democrats have been struggling with the Latino community in Florida. Between the 2014 and 2018 midterms, while Latino turnout in Florida jumped an impressive eight points, Democrats received four percentage points less of the Latino vote. Not great. So what’s going on?
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: I really think that Democrats nationally don’t fully appreciate and understand the complexity of the Latino community, specifically in Florida. I’m a Dominican from the Bronx and when you speak to Dominicans and Puerto Ricans and South Americans in the Northeast, nine out of 10 times, you’re speaking to Democrats. And that is taken for granted here in Florida. That’s not the case right? Here you have Venezuelans, you have Cubans, you have Puerto Ricans who just came from Puerto Rico. So the complexities of the messaging that is given to the Latino community in Florida is critical for us to be able to turn out Latinos here. So by that, I mean like we can’t just make one message to quote unquote “Hispanics” and blanket it out to everyone. We really need to understand the subcultures within the cultures so that we can speak to people and meet them where they are.
Jon Favreau: I absolutely hate saying this, but you know who seems to understand this reality? The Trump campaign. For the better part of a year, they’ve been running Spanish-language Facebook ads targeting different Latino communities in Florida. Many of them are about standing up against socialism, including the socialist governments of Venezuela and Cuba. It’s a tactic that was also used against Andrew Gillum in 2018.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: If I could give one piece of advice to the presidentials right now on on how to win Florida, is figure out the socialism question. Because Donald Trump and the Republicans have already decided who they are running against. Doesn’t it matter who the nominee is? They’re going to call us a socialist. That message, I believe, was tested right here on Andrew Gillum in Florida. The attack ads that they ran against him, the mailers that they sent directly targeting Latinos here had an impact. The campaign did what they could, but were never fully able to recover from that narrative in the Latino community. It’s very real here in a way that there’s a lot of firsthand experience here in South Florida specifically.
Jon Favreau: I heard this in our Miami focus group. At first, there wasn’t a lot of love for the president. One of the participants, who was born in Cuba, started off by criticizing Trump for his Cuba policy and for breaking campaign promises. Another participant, who was born in Ecuador, called Trump a security risk, and complained about his policies favoring the rich. But as the conversation moved on, neither of these men sounded like traditional Democratic voters.
Jon Favreau: Do you think that Trump has kept his promises.
man: Not all of them? He has changed a lot of stuff, but—
Jon Favreau: Which ones do you think he’s kept?
same man: It’s hard to say. He has, he has a little more control over other people coming into the United States. I would say. That that’s one thing that is good. Like I’m not against immigrants coming in, but coming the right way with paper, not no papers. And that’s something that also is killing America. Like you have all these criminals from Mexico, or they go to Mexico and they come to the United States and we get them in here.
man: So I’m registered as independent and I vote because I like some of the Republican views on everything, some of the stuff, the moderate people, not those way off guys. And the Democrats, I’m not too crazy on also some of the programs they want to give a lot of free things and free people help, too. I don’t want—so I vote more for who I think of that moment is going to be good for the, for the country.
Jon Favreau: From there, I ask everyone their opinion of the Democratic Party.
woman: I think Democrats are baby sitters sometimes. I think they give too much. Sometimes it makes people lazy. And so I can’t always agree with Democrats.
man: I feel like Democrats are kind of like a coverall for socialism.
different man: Yeah, for communism. And I think the same thing. They want to like—
man: Control things, yeah.
man: Like they want to take from the middle and give it to the poor.
woman: That’s what they do.
man: And they just leave from that. And I’m, I’m not Republican or Democratic, I just see who is the best for the country, and who can do the best. And Bernie Sanders, a lot of good promise—Medicare, free Medicare for everyone, free student loans for everyone. It sounds too good to be true.
woman: Somebody has to pay for it.
man: I mean, we came from a part that those socialists and it actually backfired on us, like big time. There was like control on everything. I’m telling control even on food. And until now, you can see that fifty years later or sixty years later, you can see that there’s not chicken in Cuba to eat.
Jon Favreau: Again, Rosy Gonzalez Speers:
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: I think that as Democrats, we need to make sure that we don’t discount that. We need to hear people out and you know what, honestly, Republicans and Trump are just using that to scare people when they’re the real strongman authoritarian leaders here. It’s: look, what happened in your country was awful, and we’re sorry that you had to go through that and Democrats are the party for you, we are the ones that are, that make it possible for everyone to come from the countries that you came from, and be able to, you know, grow up and run and be governor or president someday. We’re the party of public education, we’re the party of affordable health care, we’re the party of increasing the minimum wage and making sure that people are paid what they’re worth. And that conversation needs to happen early. It can’t happen six weeks before Election Day when we’re in a crazy geo TV and it feels so transactional.
Jon Favreau: Thankfully Forward Florida Action and other groups are doing that work now.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: We are essentially testing out a lot of messages and really working with people and saying: look, don’t let Trump insult your intelligence, this is what Democrats are about, if you believe that health care should be a right, not a privilege—what sounds socialist about that? I think the overall message is: vote so they respect you. [spanish] And then you drill down into what that means. And the message is specific to every community that you’re speaking to. If we can talk to people about what we’re for, not just what we’re against, in these communities, they will show up and they will vote for us and we’ll win. It’s the messaging of the American dream. With Latinos, we moved here because of the American dream. We still believe that the American dream works. We still believe in it. Not only do we believe in it, a lot of us have lived it and we’re very close to it. My parents, who moved here from Dominican Republic, have a ninth grade education, moved to the Bronx, had three girls, and here I am as an adviser to the first African-American nominee for governor, right? That story happened in America and it is so recent for Latinos.
Jon Favreau: In Florida, the folks at Forward Florida Action aren’t just talking to people who Democrats have traditionally done well with, like Black, brown and young voters, they’re also organizing in more conservative communities, many of which are growing as more people from around the country keep retiring there.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: What we have seen is the migration trends coming into the state are coming more from the Midwest, instead of from the Northeast. So we have this 65+ population that’s growing so in the past 10 years or so, that population has grown about 32%. And it’s Florida, right, everyone’s coming here to retire. And they’re reliable, consistent voters, super voters.
Jon Favreau: Unfortunately, these kinds of voters tend to show up for Republicans, making a lot of these areas reliably red. Rosy doesn’t expect Democrats to flip a lot of these redder counties, but she knows the party can’t afford to avoid them.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: We need to be present everywhere, not just in reliably blue precincts. And so working in red counties, there’s a blue wave coalition group that has popped up all over the state. It’s a great group of organized women that are really doing the work and hosting trainings and organizing their areas. As they’ve said to me, there are Democrats here, they’re just scared to say they’re Democrats because they don’t know where any other Democrats are. So creating spaces in some of these red counties where folks can see each other, they can be in community together, organize together. And, you know, we’re not naive, we’re not going to win those places, and that’s OK. But we just need to lose less in those places. That is how Obama won Florida. Like I said, it’s a 1% state. So every little bit counts.
Jon Favreau: Lose less, register more, show up early, listen closely and do whatever it takes to persuade people that voting can make a difference in their lives, even if their big issue is a local trash heap that smells bad. It’s not easy to do, but Rosy is hopeful.
Rosy Gonzalez Speers: We’re also seeing a lot of young people that are energized and getting involved. We saw that in the Gillum race. We’re seeing, you know, the Parkland students that have really created a movement here with activism. So, you know, I don’t buy the idea that you cannot run as a progressive in the South. I think that we saw with Andrew Gillum’s campaign someone who ran true to his values, who was unapologetic about them, and he got closer than any Democrat has gotten in decades to becoming governor of Florida as a Black man. So, you know, I think that, yes, we didn’t get there, but we got closer than ever. And I think that’s for a reason.
Jon Favreau: That reason is the incredible work done by people like Rosy and Gina and Patrick, to broaden the number and kind of people who participate in their own democracy. And despite all the heartbreak and disappointment that comes with a close loss, even when the outcome wasn’t fair, Stacey Abrams reminds us that the struggle is always worthwhile.
Stacey Abrams: When our campaign came to an end, the question that I had to grapple with was my inability to win despite doing all the things we were supposed to do. How I handled the aftermath was going to determine how people felt about their participation, and that’s why on election night when the Associated Press didn’t call the election, my speech was not about whether I won or not. My speech was about making sure every vote got counted, because when voter suppression is most effective, it’s when it looks like it’s too hard to fight. Because one of the most pernicious and intentional pieces is that it’s supposed to depress you, it’s supposed to convince you it’s not worth it. My mission is to make certain that people who are often kept out of the body politic, who finally ventured in, that they recognize that this wasn’t a failure of the system alone, it was a failure of people in the system who don’t want to hear from them and that the only way to beat them is to be louder than them. That’s the mission. And I’m still fighting about this, not because there’s a job waiting for me if I do it, but because I believe that they wouldn’t have done this if there wasn’t something good on the other side.
Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is written and directed by me, Jon Favreau of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein and Andrea B. Scott. Andrea B. Scott is also our editor. Austin Fisher is our assistant editor and associate producer. Music by Marty Fowler. Sound design and mixing by Daniel Ramirez. Production support from Alison Falzetta, Sidney Rap, and Brian Semel. Kyle Seglin was our recording engineer. Austin Fast, Virginia Lora, Nancy Rosenbaum and Max Wasserman were our field producers. Fact checking by Justin Klozco and Soraya Shockley. Archival production by Shana Deloria and Soraya Shockley. Archival legal review by Chad Russo. Special thanks to Sara Geismer, Mukta Mohan and Tanya Somanader, and to Mile Kulisheck from Benenson Strategy Group. Thanks for listening.