The Great Slate 2020

The Great Slate is an effort to help secure a Senate majority in the 2020 elections by supporting five rural Democratic House campaigns in battleground states.

Why this indirect approach? Because Senate campaigns have already raised more money than they can usefully spend, and they are (understandably) focused on turning out Democratic votes in strongly Democratic parts of the state.

Rural House campaigns, on the other hand, have to target a more challenging universe of voters, including historically low-turnout voter groups like Latino voters outside urban centers.

The five House campaigns we are backing are all veterans of the 2018 midterms, running in states where polls show a close Senate race against a Republican incumbent: Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, and Maine.

Our candidates demonstrated in 2018 that they can win independent and Republican votes. Jared Golden, was elected to Congress and is now defending his seat in perhaps the most contested district in the country. Another, J.D. Scholten, swung his 2018 race by 20 points and won 24,000 more votes than there are Democrats in the district.

You can give up to $2,800 per candidate, or $14,000 for the slate as a whole. Whatever amount you can give, whether it's a lot or a little, please make a donation today. Every penny goes directly to the campaigns.

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Here's some more detail about each candidate, district, and the relevant Senate race in their state:

Iowa 4: J.D. Scholten

The Candidate

J.D. Scholten is a former professional baseball player who felt compelled to return home to Iowa after the 2016 election and find a way to serve his state. In 2018, Scholten ran against Steve King, the most polarizing member of Congress, and came close to winning what had previously been considered a safe Republican seat. J.D.'s campaign, conducted in the spirit of rural Democrats like Tom Harkin and Berkely Bedell, emphasizes the destructive effects of monopoly on rural America, the harm done to rural Iowans by Trump's trade policies, and the need to involve farmers as full partners in the fight against climate change.

The Opponent

Randy Feenstra, a newcomer to national politics, defeated white nationalist congressman Steve King in the June 2020 primary. King had been one of the most notorious figures in the Republican caucus, with a long history of outspoken bigoted views, culminating in a defense of white nationalism in a New York Times interview that got him stripped of his committee memberships by the Republican House leadership.

King's poor performance against Scholten in 2018, along with a sustained defunding campaign that left him with almost no resources, led to a four-way primary challenge in 2020. Feenstra, the winner of that primary, is in many ways King's ideogical double, sharing his radically anti-abortion and anti-immigrant views. But Feenstra is a creature of corporate monopoly interests in a way that King, for all his other faults, was not.

The District

Iowa's 4th district is a region the size of Croatia (22,756 square miles), covering the north and west of the state. It is the second most agriculural district in the United States, a landscape of corn fields, soybeans, wind turbines, and rapidly depopulating small towns. The main urban areas are Sioux City, in the far west, and the college town of Ames, home of Iowa State University, in the east. The district has a Cook political voting index of R+7.

Northwest Iowa has been especially hard hit by Trump's capricious tarriff policy, which at one point left farmers unsure which crop to put into the ground. More recently, the region was devastated by the August 2020 derecho and by Covid-19, which has hit especially hard in Iowa's meat packing plants. Northwest Iowa has a sizable Latino population that historically votes at a lower rate than anglophone Iowans.

Voting History

Before losing this year's primary to Feenstra, Steve King had held this seat for six terms in a row, winning by comfortable marigins, including a very expensive and high-profile challenge by Christine Vilsack. Scholten's stunning performance in 2018 laid the groundwork for King's primary defeat this summer.
Year Opponent R vote D vote R% D%
2012 Christie Vilsack 200,063 169,470 51.7% 43.4%
2014 Jim Mowrer 169,834 105,504 61.6 38.3%
2016 Kim Weaver 226,719 142,193 61.2% 38.6%
2018 J.D. Scholten 157,275 146,737 50.3% 47.0%

The Senate Race

The Senate race in Iowa is a contest between real estate agent Theresa Greenfield (a political novice) and incumbent Senator Joni Ernst.

Greenfield is not the most inspiring candidate, but the DSCC likes her for her fundraising ability and perceived appeal to suburban women. Scholten will be trying to help Greenfield by reaching untapped votes in his district, including the 10,000 new Democratic voters who registered in the wake of the Iowa caucuses.

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Maine 2 - Jared Golden

The Candidate

Golden is a former Assistant Majority Leader of the Maine State House, elected to Congress in a very close election in 2018. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Golden has a working-class background and has been an independent voice for his district. He was the only Democrat to vote against the second article of impeachment for Donald Trump.

Golden started his political career as an aide to Susan Collins. His tenure in the State House coincided with that governor Paul LePage, a divisive and chaotic leader often called "Trump before Trump". Dealing with LePage has colored much of Golden's outlook about how to govern effectively under Trump. Unusually for 2020, Golden enjoys a high degree of support from Trump voters willing to split their ticket.

The Opponent

Businessman Dale Crafts won the Republican nomination with the endorsement of former Maine Governor Paul LePage. Crafts served eight years in the Maine state legislature. Crafts, who was paralyzed in a 1983 motorcycle accident, has been an advocate for disabled people's rights and started a company, Mobility Plus, to help people in similar situations regain their ability to drive. He is a devout Christian and much of his campaign centers his strong faith.

The District

Maine's 2nd district covers the entire state excluding the coastal area around Portland. It is a vast (27,557 square miles), rural district notably more conservative than the rest of New England. It was the last to go blue (with Golden's election in 2018). It includes the exurban areas around Portland and August (Maine's 'NPR belt') as well as the deindustrialized cities of Lewiston/Auburn and Bangor. Logging is big, so is potato farming and lobstering.

This is an Obama/Trump district, home of the rarest of American political animals, the genuine swing voter. It also has its own electoral vote, making it a key target for the Presidential race.

Voting History

Incumbent Bruce Poliquin served two terms before being defeated by Golden in the state's first ranked-choice election in 2018. This was the first time in 106 years that an incumbent was defeated in Maine's second district.

Year R Candidate D Candidate R vote D vote R% D%
2012 Kevin Raye Mike Michaud 137,542 191,456 41.8% 58.2%
2014 Bruce Poliquin Emily Cain 133,320 118,568 47.0% 41.8%
2016 Bruce Poliquin Emily Cain 192,878 159,081 54.8% 45.2%
2018 Bruce Poliquin Jared Golden 138,931 142,440 49.4% 50.6%

The Senate Race

Susan Collins is one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in 2020; she has consistently polled behind challenger Sara Gideon. Her defeat in the very blue CD1 is a foregone conclusion; her chances for re-election will depend on whether she can make up enough votes in CD2.

Collins has a pattern of speaking out against unpopular Trump policies, and then turning around and voting for them. Before the pandemic struck, it was assumed that her vote in the impeachment hearings would be a central political issue.

Collins's opponent, Sara Gideon, is another popular state house figure from Freeport. Gideon's strategy revolves around mobilizing voters in the Portland metro area to overwhelm the vote from CD-2. This is why I think backing Golden is a particularly strong move in the fight to unseat Collins.

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Alaska — Alyse Galvin

The District

Alaska's sole congressional district covers the entire territory of our largest state, from the panhandle near the Pacific Northwest, to the far North Slope, to everywhere in between. The population is concentrated in Anchorage, but there are smaller population centers all across the state, making campaigning (even pre-pandemic) a special challenge.

Alaska is also a world apart politically. Unlike the lower 48, where climate change is just beginning to take center stage, the issue has been front and center for Alaska voters, who see its impacts all around them. The state is also in the middle of a gubernatorial recall stemming from the governor's efforts to defund public universities, a policy that has convulsed the state politically.

The Candidate

Alyse Galvin is a former educator and education activist and the founder of Great Alaska Schools, an organization where she cut her teeth politically and scored important victories in defending funding for public schools. This issue that remains white-hot in Alaska right now, given the governor's efforts to defund universities.

Like most Alaskans, Galvin is politically and tempermentally an independent. She has spoken movingly about her own experience growing up in a broken home, and how that motivated her to try to create a better life for her family and community. The Galvin family (speaking personally now) is large, gregarious, and extremely friendly. There are reliable rumors of holiday sing-alongs.

Mostly ignored by the national Democratic party in 2018, this year Galvin has been added to the DCCC's Red to Blue list of targeted campaigns and given an endorsement by Emily's List. In the recent Alaska primary, she received more votes than opponent Don Young, the first time Young has been beaten by an opponent on this metric in over 30 years.

The Opponent

Don Young is a boorish, abusive political dinosaur. That's about as politely as I can put it. He is a big talker with a history of threatening violence against journalists and aides, part of a persona of macho bluff and bluster that has carried him back into office twenty times, making him the longest-serving member of Congress.

Young, who is 87 years old, has been in Congress for so long that he has aged out of all his committee memberships. Even voters who enjoy his antics are taking pause at the incumbent's advanced age, and his reduced ability to advocate for the state. Alaska has a small congressional delegation, and can't afford to have a third of it be effectively missing in action.

Voting History

Opponents have steadily been doing better against Don Young over the past few election cycles, with Galvin hitting a high water mark of 46% on her maiden attempt in 2018. Young's share of the vote went up that year as well, a reflection of libertarians no longer being on the ballot.

Another factor in Galvin's loss was a salmon-centered ballot initiative that brought out a heavy Republican turnout in a year when overall turnout was low.

This race in particular is a hard one to win, because Young is a state institution. But in a year of unusual change, it's especially important to run a strong candidate where a big opportunity can come unexpectedly.

Year Opponent R vote D vote R% D%
2012 Sharon Cissna 185,296 82,927 63.9% 28.6%
2014 Forrest Dunbar 142,260 114,317 51.0% 40.9%
2016 Steve Lindbeck 155,088 111,019 50.3% 36.0%
2018 Alyse Galvin 149,779 131,19953.1% 46.0%

The Senate Race

The Senate race in Alaska will be between incumbent Dan Sullivan (still perceived as a bit of a carpetbagger) and Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and the son of a legendary, recently passed figure in Alaska politics.

Gross is a first-time candidate, but has assembled an impressive war chest from people who are convinced that this is a sleeper Senate race. Since Gross and Galvin will be campaigning across the same territory, we can assume that any votes she can turn out for her House race will help Gross in his run as well.

An August 31 poll shows Gross running dead even with Sullivan, at 43%

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Colorado 3—Diane Mitsch Bush

The District

Colorado's Third District covers nearly all of the state west of the Rockies (49,731 square miles), along with a salient extending eastward to the deindustrialized city of Pueblo. The chief population centers are Grand Junction, a Republican stronghold, and Pueblo, which despite its location bears more of a resemblance to the struggling cities of the Midwest. Pueblo has a large Latino population and historically low voter turnout (a profile similar to Sioux City in J.D.'s district).

The district also comprises some wealthy, NPR-ish enclaves like Steamboat Springs, and the city of Durango, out towards Arizona. It is vast and hard to get around in, and includes some expensive media markets.

The Candidate

Diane Mitsch Bush is a sociologist, a longtime fighter for environmental causes, and very likely the only candidate on the Great Slate who has ever programmed in COBOL. She was elected as a state legislator in 2012 from Steamboat Springs and easily won re-election twice on the strength of independent voters. Mitsch Bush makes climate change a central policy issue, and emphasizes the importance of science and data-driven decision making.

Bush's strategy for 2020 is to better communicate to voters the radical agenda that her opponent—who votes in lockstep with Trump—has supported in what is an increasingly moderate district.

The Opponent

Scott Tipton is a climate denialist in a state that is experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand, and where fracking remains a contentious issue. He has been a party line voter on Trump administration policies including the Muslim ban, repealing Obamacare, and Trump's tax cuts. Other than that, he is a pretty interchangeable figure with much of the Republican caucus.

Voting History

This is a hard district to win. Bush and her predecessors have chipped away at Tipton's margins steadily, but not far enoough to seriously threaten him. That said, the demographics of this district are changing quickly, and anyone who unlocks the potential of Pueblo (a city where Bush underpeformed in 2018) could carry the race.

Year Opponent R vote D vote R% D%
2012 Sal Pace 185,291 142,619 53% 41%
2014 Abel Tapia 163,011 100,364 58 36%
2016 Gaile Schwartz 204,220 150,914 54.6% 40.4%
2018 Diane Mitsch Bush 173,205 146,426 51.5% 43.6%

The Senate Race

Cory Gardner's Senate seat was already one of the highest-profile targets in 2020 before the impeachment proceedings, but that political moment put extra strain on the Colorado senator, who became almost invisible. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has made all of that earlier political calculation obsolete, but it remains the case that Colorado is a state that is trending Democratic, and Gardner will be in for a very tough fight.

His most likely opponent right now looks to be former governor John Hickenlooper. From the perspective of the Senate race, the greatest prize Diane Mitsch Bush could unlock would be the Latino vote in Pueblo, which historically has very low turnout.

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Montana—Kathleen Williams

The District

Montana, like Alaska, has a single statewide House district, which means that the Senate and House races appeal to the same voters. Montana is a geographically vast state that also covers a lot of ideological ground. Parts of the state are ruby red, while urban areas like Missoula are very liberal.

While Montanans tend to vote Republican, they consider themselves politically independent, and Democrats have had significant success in recent years running in statewide races. The current Senate candidate is a former two-term Democratic governor, and Montanans elected a Democratic Senator in 2018.

The Candidate

Kathleen Williams is a former three-term Montana state legislator. She served on the nonpartisan Environmental Quality Council of the Montana Legislature and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a position that built on her deep expertise with watershed management and water issues in general.

When Williams was eleven years old, her mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Taking care of her mother while still a young girl deeply affected the way Williams thinks about universal health care, and is a touchstone of her campaign.

In 2018, Williams ran for the House seat and nearly defeated the notorious Greg Gianforte, best known for assaulting a journalist. She made a point in that campaign of accepting any invitation, to any part of the state, no matter what her level of support there.

The Opponent

Matt Rosendale is a Maryland transplant and former Montana state legislator with a background in real estate. He ran against Jon Tester in the 2018 Senate race in Montana, which he lost 50-47. In both his statewide eleections, Rosendale has relied heavily on support from President Trump.

As a fairly recent arrival in Montana (he moved to the state in 2002), Rosendale is vulnerable to accusations of carpetbagging. Antics like declaring himself a rancher while not bothering to buy any cattle have not helped improve that image.

Voting History

Montana's at-large House district has been in Republican hands for the last 26 years. Democrats, however, have won statewide election in that time for both the governorship and the Senate, most recently with John Tester's 2018 election.

Year R Candidate D Candidate R vote D vote R% D%
2014 Ryan Zinke John Lewis 203,871 148,690 55.4% 40.4%
2016 Ryan Zinke Denise Juneau 285,358 205,919 56.2% 40.5%
2018 Greg Gianforte Kathleen Williams 256,661 233,284 50.9% 46.2%

The Senate Race

The 2020 Senate race looked like a foregone conclusion until popular two-term Democratic governor Steve Bullock was persuaded to run against first-term incumbent Steve Daines. Since then, this suddenly competitive Senate race has attracted a blizzard of money on both sides. Polling shows Bullock and Daines roughly even.

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Final Plea

And that, my friends, is the Great Slate in 2020!

What these races all have in common is large, mostly rural districts where Democratic voters are used to being taken for granted, and persuadable voters are used to being ignored. There's an opportunity here for candidates willing to work to reach non-traditional voters and get them to the polls, particularly in a year when the window for voting is several weeks long.

But to do that work, candidates relief from the yoke of constant fundraising. And that's what we're doing! While the Senate races themselves have grown so expensive they are beyond our power to affect, these coterminous House races can greatly benefit from our help.

So please do what you can by donating to the Great Slate, as soon as you can, and sharing this page with other people you know who are worried to death about the election, but just not sure what they can do to affect the outcome.