Heard on the Hill

Young Democrats on a Mission to Pop the D.C. Bubble

District Dems launched to be a resource for campaigns around the country

District Dems will create a pool of operatives to knock on doors and canvass for Democratic candidates around the country. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of young Democrats thinks the key to winning back control of government is outside the so-called D.C. bubble.

District Dems, launched last month by people who recently moved to D.C., whether for a job or to find one, wants to mobilize out-of-town Democrats between the ages of 21 and 45 for the campaign season.

The idea is that when campaign groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee need canvassers and volunteers, District Dems will have a pool of young people to pull from.

“Millennials are going to be the strength of the next election and the next few elections until the next generation takes over,” said co-founder Brandon Gassaway, press secretary for Sen. Tim Kaine’s re-election campaign. “It’s really a way to put us all together and talk about issues among ourselves and what we want to see in our candidates. Let’s come together and talk about these issues and really move the party forward instead of creating division. We want to be a big tent.”

The District Dems founders. Back row from left to right: Eriade Williams, Trelaine Ito, Brandon Gassaway. Front row from left to right: Michael Hardaway, Colleen Carlos, Lin Whitehouse, (Courtesy of District Dems)
District Dems founders, back row, left to right: Trelaine Ito and Brandon Gassaway. Front row: Eriade Williams, Michael Hardaway, Colleen Carlos and Lin Whitehouse. (Courtesy of District Dems)

Gassaway is from New Orleans. The other founders are from all over the country.

Michael Hardaway, communications director for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, is from Chicago; Colleen Carlos, legislative director for Rep. Robert A. Brady, is from Pittsburgh; Lin Whitehouse, senior legislative assistant to Rep. James E. Clyburn, is from Lexington, Kentucky; and Army brat Beatrice Pollard, legislative aide to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, calls Maine and Georgia home.

Representing the West Coast are Trelaine Ito, legislative aide to Sen. Brian Schatz, from Mililani, Hawaii, and Eriade Williams of the American Continental Group, from San Diego.

Democrats were criticized during the 2016 election for not going outside the D.C. bubble when looking for voters and volunteers. Rep. Keith Ellison, who unsuccessfully ran for Democratic National Committee chair, has stressed the need for a “big tent,” and blamed the failure of Hillary Clinton’s campaign on not being inclusive.

Asked if the formation of District Dems is a response to that analysis, Hardaway said, “In a way, yes.”

“I think the magic is always getting an outside perspective,” he said. “Like the Obama campaign in ’08, we won in part because we had people from Silicon Valley and sort of all across America come and get involved. They had fresh ideas.”

The launch event was attended by 150 Democrats. The group’s founders used their extensive networks within the party to spread the word.

Whitehouse originally reached out to Gassaway with his idea for the organization.

“I give Lin a lot of credit for being the facilitator and bringing folks he thinks would be a good fit together to be the leadership of the group,” Gassaway said. “From there, it’s just reaching out to all of our networks to expand upon that.”

Carlos approached Hardaway because he runs a D.C. party list.

“She told me about the vision, and I absolutely loved it,” Hardaway said.

“It’s one of those things where when you hear it, you say, ‘Yeah, why doesn’t that exist already?’”

Watch: Candid, Funny and Bold: A Rowdy Night at the Congressional Dinner

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