CLEVELAND, Ohio — A new grassroots advocacy group in Ohio — launched by a Democratic consultant with experience in national progressive media — will target suburban women, a voting bloc that many believe will play a decisive role in the next presidential election.
Red Wine and Blue began placing Facebook ads last week and is prepared to invest in several local races this year as a trial run for what its founder says will be an aggressive 2020 push.
“We are going to use 2019 to learn,” Katie Paris, a mother of two who lives in a Cleveland suburb, told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
The focus, for now, is on Ohio, where Donald Trump won by eight points in 2016 and Democrats performed poorly in key midterm races last year. The results raised doubts about the state’s traditional status as an electoral battleground, especially when Democrats may be tempted to spend more in Arizona and Georgia, where demographics are shifting in their favor.
Paris believes writing off Ohio would be a mistake. When she saw Democrats make strides last year in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan — gains credited in part to suburban women turned off by Trump — she wondered if a better-coordinated effort in Ohio would make a difference.
“Number one, there’s a path to victory here,” she said. “Number two, that path goes through the suburbs. Number three, it’s women.”
So Paris quit her job as CEO of Shareblue, an organization created by the liberal activist David Brock that’s had designs on being a Breitbart for the left. After nearly a decade working within Brock’s digital media network, which supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, she felt compelled to start a project of her own closer to home. (Paris said Brock is not involved with the new group.)
“I’ve been fortunate to learn about politics from many angles,” said Paris, who has worked with progressive faith-based causes such as Nuns on the Bus and considers former White House press secretary Mike McCurry a mentor. “I’ve drawn lessons about politics and values-based communication from Mike McCurry, about media accountability from David Brock, and building communities around shared values from America’s most effective faith leaders. My most important lesson is that local, authentic voices — just like those of the women who inspired me to create Red Wine and Blue — matter most.”
Red Wine and Blue will operate as a nonprofit, with donations collected by a fiscal sponsor, the progressive think tank Innovation Ohio. (The name — aside from its patriotic and partisan notes — is meant to evoke a camaraderie of friends hashing out ideas and problems over a glass of wine.) The organization plans to partner with other suburban activists in Ohio, including Positively Blue, which drew some national attention last year when the Washington Post reported on how a charter school scandal was playing with voters. The groups are collaborating on a wine tasting event later this month with local candidates in Dublin, a Columbus suburb.
Paris’s organization plans to reach women with digital advertising, messaging, and organizing, and to engage “concerned but unconnected” voters through their social networks. Paris declined to disclose a budget or a fundraising goal, but she said she already has a staff of six, including several mothers active in local parent teacher organizations, working a mix of part- and full-time.
“I can certainly say we’re encouraged by the reception we’ve received so far,” Paris added. “Funders are looking for fresh ideas that are creative and data-driven.”
The early Facebook ads preview the startup strategy. One promotes a candidate meet-and-greet sponsored by a Democratic club at a tavern in Mason, a Cincinnati suburb. Another features a woman dressed for fall with a bottle of red beside her: “It is important to allow your wine to breathe and to make sure your local candidates are competent,” it reads.
A third ad suggests entering a drawing to win two VIP tickets to this month’s Democratic presidential debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. The Columbus suburb sits in Delaware County, long a Republican stronghold, but one where Democrats more recently have hoped to shave the margins by appealing to affluent, college-educated women. John Kasich — the state’s former governor, and a Republican who’s appealed to Democrats and independents — has lived in or near Westerville for years and keeps an office at Otterbein.
“Westerville was chosen for the debate for a reason,” said Paris, who accelerated Red Wine and Blue’s public launch plans after learning the city would host the event.
Jai Chabria, a former senior adviser to Kasich and a Republican strategist based in the Columbus suburbs, told BuzzFeed News he’s skeptical of “consultant-driven” political groups. He’s also skeptical that Ohio remains a competitive state for Democrats. But if there’s one demographic that remains competitive in the state, Chabria said, it’s suburban women.
“The only path for them is through the suburbs. From that perspective it’s not a bad play,” he said of Red Wine and Blue. “I don’t know if it's an easy play, but it’s probably the only one they have.”
Most women nationally didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, according to exit polls. But most white women voters did — a fact Trump has appeared to falsely conflate with his overall support among women. The president’s reelection campaign has mobilized a Women for Trump network aimed at shoring up support among the demographic. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month found that 56% of women who live in suburban areas did not approve of Trump.
A Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against Trump could be an issue. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll last week measured support for the inquiry at 59% among white women with college degrees but found a split among all suburban voters: 48% approved of the inquiry, 49% did not.
“They don’t want a long drawn out process, but they know it’s necessary to check Trump,” Paris said. “Like other voters, they have many demands on their time and attention. What suburban women are looking for is competence and accountability, without too much partisan theater.”