Statement from Stuart K AGAINST of Resolution 20-12-R04
Recommendation and Summary Overview
I am submitting this statement to indicate that I will vote ‘No’ on whether Metro DC DSA should endorse Karishma Mehta’s candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates (Resolution 20-12-R04). I recommend that chapter members do the same.
My rationale for voting ‘No’ on this resolution is not rooted in any opposition to Mehta’s platform or politics, but instead in my belief that our DSA chapter should endorse candidates who have a reasonable chance at victory. Based on the conditions of the race, I believe that a victory for Mehta is unlikely because it is unlikely that a broad left-labor coalition will coalesce around Mehta’s candidacy. The top opponent in this race, Alfonso Lopez, has secured endorsements from labor, progressive, and environmental groups in the past, and it looks like these groups will continue to back him. This is unfortunate because left-labor coalitions have been a crucial factor in the victory of previously endorsed candidates of our DSA chapter. Without such a coalition – and the support of constituencies represented by coalition organizations – previous chapter-endorsed candidates have consistently lost their elections by around 30 percentage points. One such loss, after Irma Corado’s 2019 race for the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, occurred even as chapter members knocked on the doors of 20,000 voters.
Considering the low likelihood that Mehta is able to win this race without a left-labor coalition supporting her, this endorsement also raises an important question about our chapter’s broader electoral strategy: Should our chapter endorse a candidate when conditions in that election – based on our experience in past electoral campaigns – reasonably point to that candidate losing the election? Due to the resource intensive nature of electoral campaigns, in terms of volunteer time, energy, and donations, I do not believe we should endorse candidates who are unlikely to win. I hope the chapter is able to more thoroughly and collectively answer this question after engaging in future democratic debates.
Again, I am voting no on this endorsement resolution, and I recommend that chapter members do the same. That said, regardless of where I or other members eventually stand on this question, if the chapter votes to endorse, I will bring whatever skills, experience, time, and energy I have to help Karishma win this election. Executing the democratic will of the membership is extremely important to me. One of the main levers of power we have as DSA is acting democratically, collectively, and with discipline to affect change.
Analysis of Previous Candidates Endorsed by Metro DC DSA
For guidance on how I would vote on the question of Mehta’s endorsement, I analyzed the performance of the 17 electoral candidates for state and local office in DC, Maryland, and Virginia that our chapter or DSA national has endorsed since 2017. This analysis is available at https://bit.ly/3oz4L3x, with a summarized table in Appendix A at the end of this statement.
In this analysis, I looked at the following characteristics of chapter-endorsed races:
Candidate performance by vote totals and percentages. These performance indicators were for (a) our chapter’s endorsed candidate, (b) the best performing winning candidate, (c) the worst performing winning candidate (for races where more than one candidate could win), and (d) the best performing losing candidate.
Breadth of coalition support for our chapter’s endorsed candidate. The three indicators I used for breadth of coalition support were ‘Broad,’ ‘Moderate,’ and ‘Little to none.’ In this sense, a broad coalition would be 10-20+ endorsements from a diverse array of organizations, a moderately sized coalition would be 5-10 organizations, and little to no coalition would be 0-4 organizations. This characteristic is unfortunately subjective because neither I nor the chapter have tracked the number of endorsements for chapter-endorsed candidates or opponents. As such, the breadth of coalition support there is based on my experience as a lead organizer and coordinator in nearly all the chapter’s past electoral campaigns.
Level of voter outreach conducted by our chapter. Voter outreach here includes the number of doors knocked and the number of calls to voters made by our chapter on behalf of the chapter-endorsed candidate or slate of candidates.
This analysis of previously endorsed candidates found that four of our chapter’s previously endorsed candidates had little to no coalition support: Ross Mittiga in 2017, Jeremiah Lowery in 2018, Irma Corado in 2019, and Mckayla Wilkes in 2020. All four of these candidates lost by around 30 percentage points. Corado’s campaign, which I sponsored for endorsement, is notable due to the fact that the loss occurred even after chapter members knocked on 20,000 doors in the district. Corado ultimately lost by 34 points.
Chapter endorsed candidates with at least moderate coalition support who also lost were much closer to winning than candidates who lost with little coalition support. With the exception of Mysiki Valentine’s candidacy for the D.C. State Board of Education this past cycle, which lost by 13 percentage points, the five other losing chapter-endorsed candidates with broad or moderate coalition support lost by between only one and four percentage points. Among the seven chapter-endorsed candidates who won their races, only Vaughn Stewart did so with moderate coalition support. The rest of the victorious candidates all had broad left-labor coalitions backing their candidacies.
Role of Chapter Volunteer Efforts
Since 2017, our chapter has built a reputation as a voter outreach powerhouse through our work supporting endorsed candidates. In total, our chapter has contacted approximately 160,000 voters, with 100,000 of those contacts coming from knocking on doors and 60,000 contacts coming from phone banking. The level of discipline and organization required to achieve voter contact numbers of this scale – all through volunteer labor – is a monumental achievement.
Based on conversations I have had with chapter members who support endorsing Mehta, I believe our chapter’s voter outreach levels in this race could match the numbers from previous races. Chapter members are excited about Mehta’s unapologetically left platform, and that enthusiasm has translated to members making early volunteer commitments to support Mehta in the field. However, as our chapter has seen with past chapter-endorsed candidates, and especially with Irma Corado’s candidacy for the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, enthusiasm for a candidate and a strong voter outreach program does not automatically translate into a winning campaign if that campaign lacks at least a moderate left-labor coalition.
Possibility for a Left-Labor Coalition Backing Karishma Mehta
It does not appear that Mehta’s campaign will ultimately secure the endorsements necessary to build such a coalition. My rationale for this prediction is that Mehta’s top opponent in this race, incumbent Alfonso Lopez, has received endorsements in the past that would constitute most of (if not the entirety) of a left-labor coalition in Northern Virginia. For the 2019 campaign cycle, Lopez received over $36,000 in donations from labor, progressive, and environmental organizations. Lopez has also never lost a primary election by less than 33 percentage points and has served in the Democratic Party leadership of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2016. Therefore, due to his electoral track record and leadership role, it is probable that organizations that have supported Lopez in the past will continue to do so in the future on the basis that Lopez will win and he will be able to deliver on promises due to his leadership position.
I posed good faith questions to Mehta’s campaign and to members of the chapter’s Northern Virginia branch about the potential for a left-labor coalition to emerge for Mehta. It is still currently unclear to me whether the campaign or NoVa branch members have heard from allied organizations about whether a left-labor coalition is possible for Mehta’s candidacy. I understand the hesitancy to speak publicly about the deliberations of endorsing organizations. However, when a left-labor coalition is one of the strongest indicators of a candidate’s chance for victory, information about such a coalition is vital. Without this information, I can only assume that most progressive, environmental, and labor organizations are either remaining neutral or endorsing Alfonso Lopez in this election.
Considering the critical role that left-labor coalitions have played in whether chapter-endorsed candidates win their elections, and the low possibility of such a coalition forming to back Karishma Mehta, I cannot support our chapter’s endorsement of Mehta if I believe our chapter should focus on endorsing candidates with a reasonable chance of victory. The resource intensive nature of electoral campaigns means that our chapter should engage in races where we can be confident that the countless hours we devote to the campaign will make a difference. I cannot in good faith support the endorsement of a candidate when our chapter’s experiences in past elections and the conditions of the election in question reasonably point to the loss of a candidate seeking our chapter’s endorsement.
As I mentioned in the opening section of this statement, should the chapter vote to endorse, I will commit my time, energy, and skills to ensuring that Karishma Mehta wins this election. I also look forward to supporting the further development and refinement of our chapter’s broader electoral strategy regardless of the outcome of this endorsement vote. As we learn from our chapter’s losses and build on our victories, we will only become stronger in our quest for a better world.