Fight for 15 Sets Its Sights on the White House

Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When Amy Klobuchar announced her run for president last year, she did so with a dig at Hillary Clinton. She held her first campaign stop in Wisconsin, a state Clinton unexpectedly lost to Donald Trump three years prior. “The challenge that we see in both Minnesota and Wisconsin is about the rural-urban divide. What I’ve decided to do in our state is to go to places that maybe we didn’t focus on enough in the last few years. That includes our rural areas,” Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, said. Midwestern appeal is the center of Klobuchar’s argument for her own electability. She will succeed, she says, because she understands the voters that her party ignored in 2016.

Klobuchar’s midwestern pitch hasn’t persuaded voters to put her anywhere near the top of the primary field. But the basic thrust of her argument — that the party can’t repeat Clinton’s campaigning errors in 2020 — is true enough, and she’s not the only one to realize it. On Friday afternoon, Fight for 15 and the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, announced a new get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin and Michigan, another state Clinton lost to Trump.

A number factors contributed Clinton’s losses in those states. In the weeks before the election, the Clinton campaign largely ignored pivotal midwestern states like Wisconsin in favor of an approach that focused on Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. That strategy may be partly to blame for an enthusiasm gap that depressed turnout among voters Clinton should have been able to win. In Wisconsin, for example, turnout among black voters decreased by “about 19 percent in the 2016 election from 2012,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported. A voter-ID law passed by Wisconsin Republicans also likely depressed turnout.

While Wisconsin suffered an especially precipitous downturn, turnout declined nationally among voters of color in 2016. SEIU and Fight for 15 want to reverse that trend this year. Union members, canvassers, and Fight for 15 workers say their campaign will target voters of color. To encourage turnout, they “will knock on nearly 700,000 doors across Detroit, Oakland County, Saginaw and Flint in Michigan and more than 750,000 doors across Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha in Wisconsin,” according to a press release. The campaign will also include “a comprehensive texting program, digital ads and engagement of union members and fast-food workers” alongside canvassing efforts, and SEIU says it will undertake similar efforts in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia, among other states.

The campaign marks just how influential Fight for 15 has become since it formed in 2012. Working in partnership with SEIU and other advocacy groups, its workers have helped drive minimum wage increases in multiple states, and several Democratic candidates appeared at the group’s rallies in 2019. That strength could make a real difference in 2020. So could a different kind of nominee — a candidate whose policies and rhetoric resonate more with voters of color who stayed home in 2016. But the eventual nominee can’t depend on the movement’s strength alone, or on the SEIU, to win the swing states Clinton lost. Whoever the party chooses, they’ll have to dedicate the time and effort in Wisconsin and Michigan that Clinton chose not to spare.

Fight for 15 Teams Up With a Major Union to Turn Out Votes