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President Trump helps to drive bigger turnout -- for Democrats

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Shortly after Inauguration Day, I began to see a new headline pop up in my email feed: "Run For Something."

At first I thought it was a cynical reader responding to one of my cranky assaults on the goofy habits and know-nothing babblings of our national embarrassment, President Donald Trump.

If you think you're so smart, I have heard, why don't you run for something?

Why, I respond, would I want to subject myself to the same abuse that I put politicians through in this job?

Nevertheless I have great respect for those who are willing to take the time and abuse necessary to, as an old saying goes, run something other than their mouths.

Such is the purpose of Run For Something, which turned out to be one of several new Trump-era political action groups that have popped up like Christmas stores in October to help advance progressive politics, outside of regular Democratic Party structures.

While the Democratic National Committee has tried to pull itself together in the wake of its shockingly unexpected loss to Team Trump, a lot of other independent anti-Trumpers are too impatient to wait.

Started by Amanda Litman, 27, former email director for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and her political operative friend Ross Morales Rocketto, Run For Something aims to enlist, fund and support an important group that often gets too little attention from Democratic party regulars: progressive millennials.

Run For Something and such other Trump-era progressive groups as Sister District, Swing Left, Flippable and Indivisible aim to do for the left what the tea party movement did for the Republican party's right-wing base in the Obama years.

I wished them luck but I didn't expect miracles. Then Tuesday's off-year elections in Virginia, New Jersey and some other states showed as elections always do that you don't need a miracle to unseat powerful incumbents in our democratic republic; you just need to get more votes.

Of the 72 candidates that Run For Something fielded, the organization reported on election night that 32 had won seats on school boards, state legislatures and city councils in 14 states, with two other races -- both in the Virginia House of Delegates -- headed to recounts.

Run For Something's biggest headline makers included Danica Roem, 33, in Virginia, who became the nation's first openly transgender state legislator. She defeated 13-term incumbent Republican Bob Marshall, who authored Virginia's "bathroom bill" and considers himself the state's "chief homophobe."

Also backed by Run For Something was Chris Hurst, a former broadcast journalist in Roanoke, Va., motivated to run for office after his late girlfriend, fellow journalist Alison Parker, was murdered by a crazed gunman during a live morning television report. Pushing education and gun safety, he beat Joseph Yost, a three-term incumbent backed by the National Rifle Association -- a group that has successfully blocked all gun control efforts by Congress in recent years.

Also on Run For Something's list was Ashley Bennett, 32, a psychiatric emergency screener in suburban Atlantic City, N.J., who was offended by Atlantic County board member John Carmen's mockery of the Women's March on Washington after Trump's inauguration.

"Will the women's protest end in time for them to cook dinner?" Carmen post on Facebook. Ha, ha. Bennett got the last laugh, unseating Carman in the Republican dominated district by more than 1,000 votes of more than 14,000 cast.

Words like "landslide," "wipeout" and "blue tsunami" have been used to describe the surge in Democratic turnout nationwide.

Exit polls showed an unmistakeable anti-Trump backlash as turnout exceeded expectations and led to big victories for Democratic governor candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.

But the more important story in the long run may be those down-ballot races where a new generation of angry and activist Democrats can begin to push back after years of losing national and state offices to Republicans,

We usually talk about candidates at the top of the ballot carrying others from their party to victory. But the big "blue tsunami" in Virginia and other states also shows the value of "reverse coattails," where energetic down-ballot candidates help boost fellow partisans at the top. For Democrats, this could be the first step to a national comeback, thanks largely to President Trump, who often seems to be doing all he can to embarrass his own cause.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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