Ronnie Cohen is executive director of Flip the West, a California-based organization working with laser focus to flip the Senate blue. Their model: Identify western states where there’s a chance of flipping a Senate seat, then mobilize volunteers from blue states to work on the campaign — texting, phone banking and sending postcards. They’re currently hosting over 30 campaign events per week to reach voters in six states: Colorado, Arizona, Montana, Iowa, Alaska, and Kansas.
Q: How’d Flip the West get started?
A: At the Women’s March, in 2017, our founder, Doug Linney, saw waves of people with so much emotion and anger. He realized there was an opportunity to channel this incredible energy into electoral action. People wanted to do something. So he created Flip the 14, to flip California’s 14 GOP-held House seats. We recruited volunteers and plugged them into our programs to reach voters in those fourteen districts during the 2018 midterm elections. We flipped 7 of those seats, many in GOP strongholds like Orange County and the Central Valley.
Building on that success, we shifted to Senate campaigns for the 2020 election. To do that we had to vastly expand our volunteer capacity.
Q: How did you gear up so quickly to take on tough Senate races?
A: We created our Flip Force, and recruited organizations to partner with us. Some are tiny grassroots groups like the Notorious Ranting and Raving Postcard Group, others are larger, like chapters of Indivisible and Sister District. We meet monthly to brief everyone on the latest campaign developments in our target state races, and to let them know about campaign actions their volunteers can take. We do trainings and help our partners trouble-shoot problems like volunteer recruitment or retention.
We’re currently working with over 200 partner groups, representing well over 10,000 people. So far, these volunteers have made over 4 million voter contacts.
Q: If someone wants to sign up to volunteer with Flip the West, what would they do?
A: Phone bank and/or write postcards to GOTV. Texting is the hottest ticket in town. We do two texting groups a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. We cap each group at 100, and they are all filled. We’ve joked about scalping our texting slots.
Q: Has the switch to “virtual” affected your work?
A: It’s expanded our volunteer universe – people from New York or New Jersey can plug into an event in Arizona. Our volunteers love the experience. Many people are feeling isolated. We’ve found they really like texting and phone banking with others. The technology allows us to do this — while people are waiting for responses to their texts to come back, they can be in a Zoom room asking questions, sharing their experiences, and socializing with others who are in their texting group.
Q: I’ve noticed that many progressive groups have joined forces, and are really working together this election cycle. Is this your observation?
A: Yes. In some states this is more true than in others. In California and Colorado, progressive groups have a long history of working together, and the 2018 Blue Wave showed it really paid off. Which encouraged others to do the same.
Now we’re helping organizations coordinate efforts, to make sure some voters don’t get contacted 18 times, and others don’t get contacted at all.
We’re also filling in the gaps. Last night we hosted a webinar for a Native Alaska community group. They face a lot of barriers to voting, and voter suppression efforts. We realized the best way to help was to support a local Native Alaskan group that is already on the ground, people who live in the community, to do the GOTV work. What they needed was money, and our wonderful volunteers were happy to support this important work.
Q: What works best – texting, phone banking or postcards?
A: Research shows each has a very small impact. But in close elections small impacts can provide the margin of victory. We don’t have phone numbers for everyone, and some people won’t pick up the phone. Which is why we need postcards. So we believe in all of the above.
Q: Flip the West started with two states, Arizona and Colorado. Now you’re up to 6. How did that happen?
A: We analyze what is going on within a state, and decide if it’s within reach. Our goal was to bring additional states into play. We started with Arizona and Colorado because they were “toss up” at the time. Now they both are “lean blue.” We learned additional states like Montana needed volunteers, which we had, so we went into those states. We want to make the GOP fight in more states, to spread their resources.
Alaska is a great example – The Senate race was “likely red” when we got involved. In the poll taken on August 31 our Senate candidate, Al Gross, was tied with the GOP incumbent.
Q: What’s surprised you about this work?
A: I’m getting calls from the least political people I’ve ever known, asking how they can get involved. No one wants to wake up after the election and think, “I didn’t do enough.”
This is the homestretch, this is not a dress rehearsal.
Q: If Trump invited you to the White House would you go?
A: No. He is the worst thing that has ever happened in my lifetime. He has been a disgrace to the office, to the country, and to the ideals that I hold dear.