A political organizing group linked to former President Barack Obama has outlined plans for 2018 that include helping defeat Gov. Scott Walker in his bid for re-election.
Also on the group’s target list: the race to succeed outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in southern Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, and flipping GOP-held seats in the Wisconsin state Senate to Democratic control.
The nonprofit group, Organizing for Action, or OFA, announced the plans Tuesday. It was founded in 2013, after Obama was re-elected, by some of his top aides.
Obama does not have a formal role with Organizing for Action, “but the group is directed in large part by his former advisers and is seen by Democrats as reflecting his political priorities,” The New York Times reported. The group’s “Organizing For ’18” program aims to harness its “vast grassroots network, training expertise, and digital resources,” according to a statement.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the progressive movement. We’re fired up that OFA can play its part by doing what we do best — community organizing,” spokesman Jesse Lehrich said.
Its plans call for involvement in U.S. House and state-level races across the country, including a target list of 27 U.S. Congressional districts, six governor’s offices now held by Republicans, and legislative races and ballot initiatives in some states as well.
Walker’s campaign began fundraising Tuesday afternoon off reports that the Organizing for Action national target list for 2018 would include Wisconsin.
“Barack Obama and his allies are joining a long list of big government special interests looking to undo all the successes of Gov. Walker and Wisconsin Republicans,” Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman said in a statement.
“This makes our fight to move Wisconsin forward more important than ever,” Zimmerman said.
Paul Nolette, a Marquette University political scientist, said there will be questions about whether the work of OFA complements or conflicts with other Democratic or liberal groups. Nolette also questioned whether there’s “value added” for the group to target congressional races in which other Democratic groups already are active.
But Nolette said the group could help direct more interest and enthusiasm from liberal activists toward state-level races, especially state legislative seats. Nolette noted some Democrats criticized Obama for letting Democratic political efforts wither at the state and local level while he was in the White House.
“In some ways, this is an attempt to rectify that,” Nolette said.
As of Tuesday, Organizing for Action declined to say with which state Senate races it would be involved.
The OFA plans mirror those of another group backed by Obama, with which it plans to partner: the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by Obama’s former U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.
Both say they’re getting involved in state races, in part, to help Democrats have more sway in the next round of redistricting that occurs after the 2020 U.S. Census. The related redrawing of legislative boundaries occurs in 2021, meaning governors and state senators elected this year to four-year terms will influence the process.
The Organizing for Action website says Walker has “already proven his affinity for partisan political tricks” such as initially declining to call special elections for recently vacated legislative seats. After three judges ordered him to, Walker ultimately called those elections — which were held Tuesday in state Senate District 1 and state Assembly District 42.
The group also said Wisconsin’s governor “holds veto power over proposed congressional and state legislative maps … we can’t let him maintain that power.”
The group’s list of targeted congressional districts focuses heavily on the Midwest, including seats in Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa, and on Sun Belt states such as California and Texas.
Its website says Ryan’s plan not to seek re-election in the 1st Congressional District “offers a critical opportunity to move away from cynical partisan politics and elect a leader who will actually fight for their constituents.”
University of Wisconsin System Regent Bryan Steil, a Janesville businessman, leads a field of Republicans vying to succeed Ryan. Others are Brad Boivin of Nashota, Paul Nehlen of Delavan, Nick Polce of Linn, Jeremy Ryan of Madison — known for protesting conservative policies — and Kevin Steen of Burlington.
Democrats running for the seat are Randy Bryce, a Racine ironworker and union activist, and Cathy Myers, a Janesville School Board member. The Independent candidate is Ken Yorgan of Racine.