Text messaging and lots of it: How Steyer-founded PAC is reaching Pa. young voters in COVID-19 | Friday Morning Coffee

April 10, 2020 7:05 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

NextGen America, the progressive advocacy group and political action committee founded by progressive billionaire (and now ex-Democratic presidential candidate) Tom Steyer, has spent a lot of money, and a lot of time, on Pennsylvania.

Since rolling into the Keystone State four years ago, NextGen, which is dedicated to energizing and engaging young voters, has made turning Pennsylvania blue up and down the ballot its first key priority. Last December, the group announced that it was spending $4.5 million on an effort to register 40,000 voters aged 18-35 in Pennsylvania, a critical 2020 battleground state.

A few things have changed since then. Notably, Steyer stepped away from the organization he founded to mount his unsuccessful White House bid. And there’s no indication he’s coming back.

And even more notably, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic threw the White House race into a tizzy, and completely redefined what it means to campaign at a time when face-to-face contact with voters is off-limits.

We spent a few minutes this week talking to Sarah Eagan, NextGen’s Pennsylvania spokesperson, about the shifting political topography, and how NextGen is responding to it.

The group sent an open letter to former Vice President Joe Biden, from young voters, on the issues they’d like to see him address now that he’s the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.

Our conversation with Eagan has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 03: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a Super Tuesday campaign event at Baldwin Hills Recreation Center on March 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Biden is hoping his make-or-break victory in the South Carolina primary has influenced Super Tuesday voters to lean toward him. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Q: So what immediate steps have you taken to change the way you’re reaching out to younger voters?

Eagan:  “In mid-March, we suspended in-person contact. We continue to do digital outreach. A lot of young people live online, and we’ve been encouraging them to vote by mail. We’ve sent more than 200,000 texts to voters on our list to encourage them to use mail-in ballots, and to inform them about the primary [date] change.”

Q: Have you done any digital buys in Pennsylvania to compliment that effort? What’s that looked like?

Eagan: “Our digital buys usually come from [our national headquarters]. There are none in the state. Last week, we did a digital day of action, with Tik-Toks and Twitter threads to reach people inside and outside of our network.”

Q: How large is your contact base in Pennsylvania at this point?

Eagan: “It’s fairly large. In Pennsylvania, we registered more than 50,000 people. We’re on track to do that again [in 2020]. We’re lucky that, in Pennsylvania, we have online [voter] registration. We know that in person contact is the best. What’s nice is that, within our program, it’s more successful if we have more [contact]. People we’d meet in-person, we’re reaching out [to online]. We know that if we reach out, and keep them engaged through November, they will come out to vote.”

Q: What’s on deck in the near future?

Eagan:  “For Earth Day [April 22], we’re doing a digital day of action. And on 4/20, we’re going to promote [recreational adult] marijuana legalization.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff
County governments across Pennsylvania are feeling the pinch from COVID-19. We check in with officials from all four corners of the state on how they’re dealing with the policy and public health fallout from the pandemic.

Erie Correspondent Hannah McDonald looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted northwestern Pennsylvania’s already struggling manufacturing sector.

Gov. Tom Wolf called time on the 2019-20 school year on Thursday, leaving millions of students and their parents wondering what happens next. Stephen Caruso has the details.

Two weeks after getting $50 million in emergency funding from Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly, Pennsylvania’s hospital industry is looking for a package of economic assistance measures that includes tax forgiveness, another emergency fund, and liability protection, your favorite newsletter author reports.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: With schools shuttered for the rest of the year, Philly school district officials are formulating a distance learning plan.

On our Commentary Page, Pa. counties are ‘conducting business as unusual,’ writes Lisa Schaefer of the Pa. County Commissioners Association. And the pandemic is a reminder that it’s past time to raise the minimum wage, writes state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia.

The Inquirer
 explains how the pandemic has given a boost to Pennsylvania’s cannabis industry.
Pennsylvania is considering segregating elderly COVID-19 patients, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive profiles the local broadcast journalists who are working from home.
A meat-packaging plant in Hazleton has closed after 130 employees tested positive for COVID-19, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Pennsylvania prisons have extended their visitation ban, WHYY-FM reports.
Most Pennsylvania hospitals will exhaust their mask supplies within a week, WHYY-FM reports.
In the absence of a federal plan to return to normal, states are moving on their own, reports.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned President Donald Trump not to open the country too soonPolitico reports.

What Goes On.
Time TBD:
 Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out in advance this morning to our former PennLive colleague, Joe McClure, the most Shoegaze-y journalist we know. He completes another trip around the sun on Saturday. Congratulations, sir. Enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Speaking of shoegaze, here’s a classic from My Bloody Valentine. It’s Only Shallow.’ Be sure to play this one at tinnitus-inducing volume, just as MBV founder Kevin Shields would want it.

Friday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Here’s some great retro hockey for those of you … okay, us … who are jonesing for the fastest game on ice. From 1991, the old Quebec Nordiques face the Montreal Canadiens in the Battle of Quebec.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.