The morning after last night’s stunning election in a traditionally red congressional district of Georgia, where Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff outperformed a slate of Republicans, Catherine Vaughan is feeling buoyant. She is the cofounder of Flippable—a progressive organization that uses data to target local races where there is a strong possibility of switching blue. Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker, received 48.1% of the vote in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, far ahead of his GOP competitors, and Vaughan said her organization used its modeling and targeting–as well as a little fundraising–to help catalyze the opportunity. Though he didn’t snag enough votes to avoid a run-off election in June, it was a huge disappointment for Republicans in the district best known as the home of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a sign that President Trump’s unpopularity is giving a boost to Democrats. “It’s super exciting” Vaughan told Fast Company, already looking ahead to upcoming races in Virginia. “This is continued proof that our movement is working.”
Flippable has been keeping a close eye on the Georgia campaign for months, although it’s not one of its typical projects. The organization focuses primarily on state legislative chambers, said Vaughan. It can best be described as a progressive organization that tries to pinpoint the most competitive elections where a red district has potential to “flip” blue. Flippable has been gaining traction as an indispensable resource to local elections; it connects candidates with volunteers and donors and uses data science and targeting to figure out the best ways of pulling off a political upset.
In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s unexpected defeat in the presidential election, organizations like Flippable are trying to switch the party’s approach—from top-down to bottom up, which can help grow the progressive base that the Democrats seem to have lost over the last eight years. It’s all part of a large-scale, decentralized movement to bring back grassroots local politics into the Democratic wheelhouse–something the Republicans excelled at during the Obama era via groups like the Tea Party.
With Ossoff’s campaign, Flippable saw real potential to send a nationwide message that it’s possible for a Democratic upstart to perform well in such a deeply Republican district. Not only that, but the organization actually saw a real opportunity to win. Flippable uses data science and technology to crunch polling data and craft political models to better analyze which races are the ripest for targeting and flipping. “The Ossoff race was interesting,” she said, explaining that there was a way to exploit several variables from Ossoff’s energy to disenchantment with Trump’s character. “We thought it was pretty flippable.”
Now many Democratic party organizers hope that yesterday’s relatively successful result could help guide its election strategy in some upcoming races.
The Elections Ahead
For Flippable, the big fights this year are in Virginia, with a series of local elections slated in the coming months–beginning with primaries–that could further fuel Democratic momentum is traditionally conservative areas. According to the organization’s website, there are twelve specific elections that could help shift the state’s legislature from red to blue.
“We’ve raised about $300,000 for candidates,” said Vaughan. “We hope to continue doing that in Virginia.” While the organization will not support any specific candidates pre-primary, it will be keeping an active eye on what’s going on to make sure it has its finger on the pulse of the action. Once the primaries are over, Flippable wants to “build up a sustained excitement and community action around the most flippable races happening in Virginia,” she added. Flippable’s team is currently meeting with candidates, crunching numbers, and looking at election data from the past thirty years to try and figure out which races the Democrats should be putting more emphasis on.
Vaughan says the best way forward is to look strategically at the races that could get the most attention. Flippable has been obsessively following candidates, looking at their stories, and trying to learn how to help propel their political narratives. The work may be grueling, but the only way to rebuild a local progressive base is to go full steam ahead every chance you get, explains Vaughan.
Virginia, of course, isn’t the only fight ahead–though it may be one of the most visible. Other traditionally red areas are already gearing up for tough fights. Dr. Kathryn Allen of Utah has already raised a record-breaking amount of money in her bid to oust House representative Jason Chaffetz—which helped prompt him to announce this morning that he would not seek reelection. Perhaps these local fights are proving successful.
For now, Vaughan and her team have been meeting and networking with hundreds of people over the last few months who have pledged to help out any way that they can. Next, she’s hoping to use Flippable as a way to help deliver campaign contributions to candidates. The Republican party, she says, has been consistently pouring in more and more money in recent decades to keep districts red. She wants Flippable to be a resource for candidates to help them connect all their supporters across the country. Most of all, Vaughan wants to make sure the candidates know all the resources–financial and otherwise–at their disposal.
Lastly, Flippable sees this as a way to source new talent. The next few months will be focused on local elections and figuring out the best paths to victory; but to also unearth future Democratic leaders–from candidates to congressional aides. “We engage our community in smart, metric-driven ways,” said Vaughan. And through that, she added, “we can help bring a new generation cohort of people into politics.”