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At a conference for progressive candidates, a groundswell of excitement

Alex Roarty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The nation's capital was plunged into chaos this week, beset by Paul Ryan's retirement, Donald Trump's threats, and a raid on the home and office of the president's personal lawyer.

But removed from the tumult, a few hundred men and women were having a very different experience in a Washington hotel. Gathered for a candidate-training conference, these progressives were reveling in what they believe is the political moment that will vault the liberal movement into power not just in Washington but nationwide.

"What you are doing is making a political revolution," Sen. Bernie Sanders told the crowd, which rewarded him with uproarious applause throughout his speech. Many of the candidates in attendance count Sanders as their political hero, crediting his unexpectedly effective primary against Hillary Clinton with inspiring their own candidacy.

The multiday event, organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, drew 450 candidates -- many of them running for office for the first time. Not surprisingly, with progressive energy sweeping the country, it was the largest such event the PCCC has ever held. (Last year's gathering drew a then-record 300 candidates.)

Candidates -- who hailed from states ranging as far apart politically as Kansas to California -- received training on the basics of campaign trail life: learning to respond to reporter questions, giving speeches and using social media.

Hollywood screenwriters offered training on how to tell a personal story, teaching candidates to identify and highlight compelling parts of their personal biographies.

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At times the gathering felt more like a political rally than staid conference, especially when liberal icons Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Keith Ellison spoke. Each received repeated ovations and shouts of encouragement throughout speeches that encouraged progressives to recognize the progress they've made and keep fighting to earn even more.

"You can hear it when we were in there earlier, and I think that's kind of indicative of the whole country," said James Thompson, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Kansas's 4th Congressional District. "There's this excitement building in the United States and across the country to change what's going on, to change the narrative, to change the leadership."

Democrats are confident about next year's midterm elections, convinced that Trump's historically low approval numbers -- the president's approval rating was just 41 percent in Gallup's weekly survey -- give them a strong opportunity to win the 23 seats necessary to control the House majority. They even think they can make gains in the Senate, possibly even win a majority there too, despite defending a litany of deep red seats.

They've been aided in that effort by a boon in liberal enthusiasm since Trump's election, one that has led to mass protests such as the Women's March and a surge in candidate recruitment that The New York Times reports has given the party its biggest edge on the GOP in more than a decade.

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