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Sonoma activists mobilize for midterms

For weeks, people have been gathering around Laura Stanfield’s long kitchen table in Glen Ellen – laptops and tablets and smart phones at the ready – dialing strangers in Texas to jaw about politics, specifically the battle for the junior senate seat in the Lone Star State.

The volunteers hope their efforts will unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and that Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will ascend in his stead. To the Glen Ellen activists, O’Rourke is essentially the inverse of Cruz: optimistic and charming, progressively left. He’s pro-choice, pro-immigrant and fervently anti-PAC, refusing to take any money from political action committees. He is riding a blue wave of grassroots enthusiasm, and Stanfield and her team are caught up in the swirl.

But Texas is a long way from liberal California. Why work to influence outcomes there?

“If Beto can win Texas, this will have national implications!” Stanfield exclaimed in her high-energy style. She talks fast, thinks fast, moves even faster.

“I was born and raised in Texas,” she said, “and have been discouraged by who they’ve elected in the last 25 years. I heard Beto speak and was inspired by his platform (and) how honest and articulate he is.”

With all three branches of federal government under Republican control, Democrats like Stanfield are trying to rebalance the scales.

In the Senate, where a 51-seat Republican majority has allowed a Republican President to oftentimes have his way, that two-seat margin feels like an opportunity for activists working to influence outcomes all over the country. Sonoma Valley residents are canvassing for Democratic candidates in Nevada, Florida, Texas, Arizona and beyond, determined to push back against the prevailing winds.

“Given the state of politics in our country, it is imperative that Beto wins,” Stanfield said. “We need someone who lives on the border and wants a real immigration plan. We need someone who understands that humans need the Earth, and will re-empower the EPA. We need to make a change in Washington now!”

Alice Horowitz, a Glen Ellen resident, has been promoting Democrat candidates by making financial donations. Dismayed by a conversation she had with a middle-aged man on a recent trip to Colorado, Horowitz doubled down on her efforts as the midterms approached. “He admitted that he just didn’t care all that much about politics. I was floored when he admitted to never having voted.” Horowitz took the time to make her case for participation, patiently explaining the risks endemic to apathy. “He agreed he probably should vote, and maybe this time he will. I’ll never know, but he did at least get the message because I took the time to engage him on the subject.”

Stanfield’s mission, too, is to awaken an electorate that, historically, has long been asleep at the wheel.

“Texas is a non-voting state, ranked 49 out of 50 for voter turnout,” she said. “If volunteers get the word out for Texans to vote, then Beto has a chance. I’ve been very frustrated with our current president and feel that Beto has the personal qualities that I look for in a leader. I do not want to sit on the sidelines.”

Working the phones for a candidate running for an eastern Washington Congressional seat, Kate Eagles of Sonoma explained her motivation. “In California, of course, our candidates mostly share my views, and so the question is how do you go beyond that when you’re an active citizen and you’re frustrated,” Eagles said. “I would like to see some more balance in our Congress so we have our checks and balances in place.”

The process for supporting these out-of-state candidates involves public voting records and some slick technology. Volunteers log into a candidate’s campaign with a code, and the phone numbers of registered Democrats pop up. There are scripts that align with individual candidates and issues, and protocols for engaging strangers on the phone. Often as not, the calls go to voicemail, at which point a scripted message is left. Occasionally, someone picks up the phone feeling cranky, or, as Eagles has found, disillusioned by politics. Those calls require a good ear and a deft touch, an ability to listen between the lines.

But generally speaking, things go to plan. “The calls when people aren’t very nice have been rare,” Eagles said.

With only four days left until Election Day, Stanfield is seriously in it to win it for Beto O’Rourke. She even flew to Texas to put boots on the ground, joining a swarm that knocked on one million doors. Yard signs for both candidates - a favorite metric for pundits - ran about even, Stanfield said, a remarkable state of affairs in deep red Texas. As time runs out, Stanfield is encouraged by every good omen, like the T-shirt she spotted in a recent yoga class. As she struggled for balance in bow-pulling pose, she could just make out its message from across the room. “Grab ‘em by the midterms,” the shirt read.

“Loved it!” Stanfield said.

Contact Kate at kate.williams@sonomanews.com.

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