Baer faces a tough task on Election Day: She's a first-time Democratic
candidate for Congress vying against a veteran Republican in "one of the
swingiest swing districts" in southeastern Florida, as she puts it.
many in her party, Baer says she benefits from a secret weapon - one
that is 2,500 miles away from her slice of the Sunshine State. In
Silicon Valley, Baer is among a flood of candidates capitalizing on new
apps, activist groups and other organizations that spawned after
President Donald Trump's 2016 victory with the explicit goal of
triggering a Democratic wave this November.
voters prepare to head to the polls, the tech industry's talented,
well-heeled engineers and entrepreneurs have been plugging into
Democratic campaigns around the country. They've donated their time and
money toward giving the party a digital edge, aiding the most distant
local candidates and the Democrats' more ambitious quest to snatch
control of the U.S. Congress from Republicans' grasp.
of these newly awakened tech workers are motivated by Trump's
controversial policies on issues including immigration, and they're
focused on closing what they perceive to be an innovation gap with the
GOP, two years after Trump effectively tapped Facebook, Twitter and
other data-heavy tools on his road to victory. One outgrowth of the
Valley's efforts, an app called MobilizeAmerica, has helped Baer find
potential supporters in Florida's 18th District, a chunk of the state
about the size of Rhode Island. The app helped the campaign knock on
more than 2,000 doors during a campaign event held a month before
Election Day, aides said.
the 2016 election, I think we saw a number of individuals in the tech
space, in Silicon Valley and also around the country, frankly saying
they wanted to use technology for good," said Baer, who stands to become
Florida's first openly lesbian representative in Congress if she wins.
"And because of that, we've seen a proliferation of new tools."
Silicon Valley's heightened attention to politics - and its commitment
to aiding mostly Democrats - could saddle the tech industry with a new
headache in the nation's capital, where Trump and his GOP allies have
alleged that tech giants are biased against the right. On Tuesday,
Trump's 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, accused Facebook and
Google of "ramping up their purge of conservatives" ahead of the
the tech giants, which have deep liberal bias throughout their personnel
and practices, place a thumb on the scale against conservatives online,
we are undaunted," a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign said this week.
"We will continue to build our database of millions of supporters and
are confident that they will turn out and deliver victory for the GOP on
new start-ups and other organizations have attracted high-profile
investments from some of the tech industry's deepest pockets, including
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. They're seeking more than the
next great political app: If Democrats succeed on Nov. 6, the tools they
funded could be a boon that lasts beyond the midterms - giving the party
a technological advantage in its coming rematch against Trump.
on the sidelines is no longer an option, and we can't wait until 2020,"
said Ron Conway, an early investor in Facebook and Google who has
donated millions of dollars this cycle.
Valley's political apotheosis began hours after Trump's victory. Many in
tech had backed his vanquished Democratic foe, Hillary Clinton, and they
quickly set about protesting the incoming Republican president's agenda.
Some rank-and-file tech employees soon pressured their bosses - the
leaders of companies including Apple, Facebook and Google - to avoid
working with the Republican administration, and many later took to the
streets of San Francisco to protest Trump's policies.
groundswell of activism in the country's tech heartland offered an
opportunity for digital strategists like Shomik Dutta and Betsy Hoover
to experiment before the midterm elections. Two veterans of President
Barack Obama's political campaigns, the duo and their peers teamed up to
launch a new Democratic-leaning startup incubator, called Higher Ground
Labs, in May 2017. Amassing a roughly $5 million war chest, they set
about trying to seed the next generation of tools that might help
Democratic campaigns deploy Facebook ads and tap text messages to get
voters to cast ballots on Election Day.
are realizing if our old technology is horse and buggy, and a car has
just been introduced, we shouldn't be investing in stronger horses,"
the 2018 race began, Higher Ground Labs has invested in 23 startups,
including MobilizeAmerica. Think of it akin to the
restaurant-reservation service OpenTable, but for shoe-leather politics:
A candidate can post an event for knocking on doors, and interested
supporters can snag a spot. Campaigns can also link up with allied
political organizations, including the fast-growing progressive outlet
Swing Left, which can then direct volunteers on how to take action.
far, MobilizeAmerica has been used by more than 400 campaigns and
groups, which rounded up more than 254,000 volunteers who will try to
visit, call or text about 19 million voters by Thursday, said Alfred
Johnson, the co-founder of the company.
lot of people are very motivated by the presidency," he said, "and we're
going to continue to see a ton of investment and activity in this
Ground Labs also has invested in VoterCircle, one of many emerging apps
that helps organizers tap their address books and text to friends voting
reminders and other political messages. Another, called Change Research,
relies on Facebook ads to reach specific categories of voters with
surveys, rather than querying them through landline phone calls. Its
founders - Mike Greenfield, a Silicon Valley data scientist, and Pat
Riley, a political veteran - say their polling tools now are deployed in
dozens of local races in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Florida and Texas.
think it is likely just the beginning" Greenfield said of the Valley's
interest in politics, "but I think we've made real progress."
years, Republican campaigns have relied on powerful tools for finding,
tracking and advertising to voters, many created by deep-pocketed donors
like the Koch Brothers. For Democrats, some of their most engaged
benefactors have long come from Silicon Valley, where tech leaders like
Eric Schmidt, a former top executive at Google, played signature roles
in helping to assemble digital arsenals for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and
for Clinton four years later.
it's Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder, who has become one of the
Democratic Party's top tech benefactors. He has donated to Higher Ground
Labs and some of its portfolio companies, on top of millions of dollars
he's contributed to Democratic campaigns just in the past three months.
Hoffman pinned his heightened involvement on Trump, charging that the
president "attacks the very institutions of democracy." The LinkedIn
co-founder added in a statement it's "why I've been asking my
technologist friends and other leaders to get engaged too."
Sacca, an early investor in companies such as Uber, hired a former aide
to Obama to study dozens of start-up pitches and invest in some
"intended for 2020 and beyond," he said. Conway, meanwhile, said he and
his peers had deployed and "enormous amount of resources," adding in an
email that Trump has been "an urgent wake up call to many in the tech
Mia Ketterling, a project lead at Pinterest, her epiphany came in
September. She opted to join roughly 9,400 of her tech peers in
volunteering with Tech for Campaigns, an organization founded in 2017
that seeks to pair the best and brightest in the tech industry with
candidates, particularly those at the state and local level, who lack
digital savvy and can't afford to hire experts.
think there is a strong opposition to Trump and also an awareness,"
Ketterling said of others in the Bay Area. "Like, 'Wow, we've really
been sleeping on the job here, and we need to get more involved.'"
is now part of a team assisting Bob Doyel, a Democrat who's running to
represent a north-central Florida district of about 150,000 people (and
"fields that may have cattle in them," as he put it) in the state's
legislature. Doyel himself admits his generation doesn't know "a lot
about tech," and he choked up during an interview acknowledging the
unexpected support showered on him by Tech for Campaigns and Ketterling,
whom he's never met in person.
more resources have come in," he said, "we have gotten more digital."
Democrats' infusion of tech cash and support originated outside party
headquarters. Fearing they had lost ground to Republicans after Trump
prevailed in 2016, Democrats entered the 2018 cycle and realized they
had to allow people to "put their smarts to work," said Caitlin
Mitchell, the chief mobilization officer at the Democratic National
Committee. The DNC also hired Raffi Krikorian, a former leading engineer
at Twitter and Uber, as their chief technology officer last year.
seek not only to remake the political compositions of state and federal
legislatures but to amass critical data about the apps and techniques
that might work best for the presidential race. Ahead of 2020, groups
like Higher Ground Labs plan to raise an additional $6 million entering
the presidential race, its founders said.
two years from now will be drastically different from how it is today,"
said Hoover, the former Obama campaign official who founded Higher
Ground. "I hope we never again get to the place where we're like,
'Great, we have this beat, let's move on.'"