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24 Jan 2018 6:30
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  •   Home > News > International

    Grassroots Democrats helping the left wrestle back power in the United States

    A growing grassroots movement and a "blue wave" of Democratic special election wins suggests Republicans trying to retain control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections could face an uphill battle.

    In her 57 years Wendy Gooditis has been a lot of things: an equestrian athlete, teacher and a real estate agent.

    She never considered adding "politician" to that list, but that changed when Donald Trump won office.

    "It just seemed to me that our government was headed in the wrong direction," she says, standing on her farm in a traditionally Republican stronghold in rural Virginia.

    "So I started to look at my local representation, I started to do anything I could think of doing to start changing the culture in this country."

    After realising the Republican incumbent was going to run unchallenged in the Virginia state election last November, she put her name on the ballot as a Democrat — and won.

    "Someone had to do it, and no-one else stepped forth so here I am," she says.

    "I think that people are glad to have someone in office who maybe doesn't own four houses and have $7 million in the bank, someone who understands what their daily issues are."

    Ms Gooditis is part of what some are calling a "blue wave" — a string of Democratic wins in special elections over the past year that suggest an uphill battle for Republicans trying to retain control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.

    Usually parties won't bother running candidates in seats they don't think are competitive, but grassroots Democrats are bucking that tradition.

    "There were … a couple of seats that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 but the Democrats didn't even field anybody in the congressional election," says Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University.

    "This time around Democrats are fielding candidates basically in all of the congressional races across the country, so that means is that as a wave builds — or if a wave builds — against the Republicans, there will be Democratic candidates in place to catch that wave."

    Democrats pulling out all the stops for midterms victory

    In the midterms one-third of senatorsare facing re-election, but the numbers are in favour of Republicans to retain control.

    Of the seats up for grabs, eight are held by Republicans and 24 by Democrats, putting the left on the defensive.

    In the House all seats are up for grabs. The Democrats need to win 24 of them to take control.

    Aside from running candidates across the board, also working in the Democrats' favour is Mr Trump's high unpopularity rating, and the fact that historically after a presidential election the party in opposition usually picks up seats in the midterms.

    If Democrats did win control of the House it could cause big problems for Donald Trump's legislative agenda and his own future — a Democrat controlled House could begin impeachment proceedings against the President.

    Grassroots groups and women 'aren't going away'

    Virginia resident Lisa Howard is sitting at her kitchen table which is covered with marker pens and post cards that say things like "Voting is my Superpower" and "When We Vote, We Win".

    Around her a dozen women and two men are writing on those cards to their recently-elected state representatives.

    Before the 2016 election, Ms Howard was not politically active.

    After going to the Women's March following Mr Trump's inauguration, she decided she wanted to do more.

    "I always wanted to be in that level where you could do something that mattered — and not for the parties and the fame of it, but really do something that was helpful to people," she says.

    In the months leading up to the Virginia state election, she and several friends helped arrange for more than 130,000 postcards to be written to constituents and candidates hoping to turn the tide for the Democrats.

    It worked — 11 of the candidates they supported unseated incumbent Republicans.

    Ms Howard's group got their start from something called "Indivisible" — an online how-to guide created to provide tips on how to resist the Trump agenda.

    There are now almost 6,000 Indivisible chapters across America.

    "I think the people underestimate the grass roots and the women that are rising," Ms Howard says.

    "We are not going away."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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