Democratic Party members are looking to boost grassroots efforts in the wake of sweeping Republican wins at both the state and national level.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning said she endorsed U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to be the next Democratic National Committee chair because of his local outreach approach to citizens.
Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, according to CNN. He describes his four main agenda focuses as peace, prosperity for working families, environmental sustainability and support for human rights on his website.
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Laning said other Wisconsin leaders including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore have all endorsed Ellison, as well as other state Democratic chairs. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also voiced her support for Ellison.
“There’s a lot of people who have called me to say that they’re pleased that I’ve put my support behind Representative Ellison,” Laning said.
People will likely continue to hear the names of others who may be interested in the position as campaigning continues until the February DNC election, Laning said.
She said one of the things she admires most about Ellison is his on-the-streets approach of talking to people.
“We as a party have to challenge all of our legislators, all of our candidates and our volunteers to work on making more and more connections and just encouraging them to get involved in politics and vote,” Laning said.
Ellison is challenging people to raise voter turnout by 3 percent, even in strongly Democratic districts, Laning said.
Laning said his grassroots approach of speaking neighbor-to-neighbor mirrors her own tactics when she ran for DPW chair.
“Part of our problem is how do you reach out to voters to get them to hear about the facts,” Laning said. “How are they going to trust, who are they going to believe in this day and age, where there are so many avenues that don’t give out accurate information?”
Grassroots work is a way to counter this proliferation of misinformation, she said.
Building up stronger county parties in Wisconsin and providing training for people who want to get involved are other top priorities for the DPW in the coming years, Laning said. She said Ellison believes in providing these types of local resources, which is a key reason why she supports him.
This local approach allows the party to address a variety of issues, like concern about equality on college campuses, she said.
“[Students] want to be sure that our country holds true to the progress we’ve made, that every person, no matter what background they have, no matter who they love, has equality,” Laning said.
She said while those issues may be important in northern Wisconsin, other issues like broadband access or water quality may be more of a priority. Laning said the party has to listen to what community members care about and want.
Poll number from Politico show a divide between Republican-leaning rural areas and Democratic-leaning urban areas, which Laning said can be bridged with this issue-based approach.
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“That will make a big difference in helping more of our rural voters know that we’re here to make their lives better in a variety of ways,” Laning said. “But we need to be talking about the one that’s most important to them.”
Laning endorsed Ellison the day after meeting with him.
She said she was looking for someone who would listen to grassroots efforts, invest in building a ground-up structure and value the party both at the state and county level.
“Really, the Democratic National Committee works for all of us,” Laning said. “We’re electing this chair because we believe that that the chair is going to lead our party to becoming a stronger party.”
Automatically, the chair and vice chair of each state’s Democratic party become DNC members. Each state also has a different number of representatives based on its population, with four from Wisconsin. The six representatives from Wisconsin will be voting in February at a DNC meeting as it selects its new chair.