‘They need direction,’ says group training Pa.’s next gen of Democratic leaders | Thursday Morning Coffee

February 20, 2020 7:07 am

Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate Shanna Danielson gathers petition signatures with Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny (Facebook photo)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

On Tuesday, candidates from every corner of Pennsylvania — veteran incumbent and neophyte alike — descended on the Pennsylvania Department of State for a rite of campaign season: Filing the nominating petitions that will get them onto the April 28 primary ballot — and, from there, into elected office this November.

But that biennial tradition is just one step on a very long road that also includes knocking on lots of doors, distributing campaign literature and setting up the infrastructure that every campaign needs to succeed. For experienced lawmakers, it’s a heavy lift. For newcomers, it can seem insurmountable.

This week, we chatted briefly with veteran Democratic campaign operative Kelly Dietrich, whose Chicago-based company, the National Democratic Training Committee, specializes in taking inexperienced candidates, and giving them the training they need to succeed. The organization was founded in 2016.

The organization recently picked up the endorsement of Gov. Tom Wolf and nine other Democratic governors. In a statement, Wolf said that “as a former business owner, I know how important hands-on training is to success. The politics of our time are constantly evolving and are in great need of new leaders who are invested in electing candidates that will move our country forward.”

The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity and content.

Kelly Dietrich, president and CEO, of the National Democratic Training Committee (submitted photo)

Q: So who are you? What do you do?

Dietrich: We offer free training for any Democratic staff, elected officials or local leader. In 2017-18, we saw the momentum on the ground. Not only online, but in in-person training in all 50 states. We saw the potential for the 2018 wave — and it was absolutely a wave. The numbers haven’t changed, they’ve increased. The number of people who say they’re running and are interested, we’re making sure Democrats are well-positioned to take advantage.”

“We are two months into 2020, we’ve had nearly 100 people come online from Pennsylvania to take our training. In all of calendar year 2019, we had 219 people. In the first two months of the year, we’ve had half that already, in 2018, we had 197 people come and take our training online. We’ve seen this across the board. For our first training of the year in Indianapolis, we had more than 350 people register for that training. The numbers we’re seeing are huge.”

Q: How did you get started on this?

Dietrich: “I had done Democratic campaigns for almost 20 years prior to this. I was a new campaign and fundraising specialist. I saw the same problems over and over — local people who were willing to get out and run, then realized it was no one’s job to help these people. That, to me, seemed like a strategic error in general.”

Democratic state House candidate Sean Quinlan (Facebook photo)

Q: Who are the candidates signing up for your programs? Are these progressive Democrats? Centrists? Or do they range across the spectrum?

Dietrich: “The vast majority oft he people who come are running for … [legislative] office and below. These are people who are running, and it’s not their full-time job … They don’t have the resources to run campaigns. Most of the people coming to us are at that level and want help and direction.

The candidate profile “runs the gamut. We do not make endorsements. We don’t do issues. If you are a Democrat who is running, we’re willing to help you run and give you access to resources.”

Q: Where do you fit into the universe of groups that are offering training, such as Emerge, who are working to train and equip women to run for elected office?

Dietrich: “Our mantra is cooperative, not competitive. Emerge is a fantastic training partner of ours. Emerge takes a couple dozen of women in annually. But hundreds apply. We shouldn’t be letting them go and not providing them with any resources. We’re at a higher scale, we have an online component, which makes us available 24/7. It’s easier for candidates who are working and have families.

“You can come downstairs at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m, sit at the computer and learn what a vote goal is. And you figure out how that can have an immediate impact on your race.”

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 takes you inside House and Senate primaries in Philadelphia that speak volumes about where Pennsylvania Democrats are as the spring campaign gets underway.

Officials at the Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole told a state Senate panel Wednesday that they’re scrambling to keep up with a backlog of cases while they wait for Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled state Senate to appoint new members, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Two top officials at the Dept. of Labor & Industry told a House budget panel that it’s an embarrassment that Pennsylvania hasn’t raised its minimum wage for a decadeCassie Miller reports.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: Despite opposition from Mayor Jim Kenney, a City Council committee has advanced a tax break bill for the city’s working poor.

On our Commentary Page, frequent contributor Simon F. Haeder says that during this high-stakes fight between the insurance industry and Big Pharmaconsumers are left holding the bag. And if you think we’re irrevocably polarized now, a University of Virginia historian would like to remind you of that speed bump called the Civil War.

(Image via

Suicides in Pennsylvania’s prisons have reached an ‘all-time high,’ the Inquirer reports.
Allegheny County’s Democratic chairwoman has hit back at critics over a pair of controversial endorsements the county party made last weekend, the Post-Gazette reports.
Harrisburg’s Catholic diocese has filed for bankruptcyPennLive sketches out the contours.
The Morning Call has mapped out how flu season has affected Pennsylvania.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

A Philly start-up has found an ‘untapped’ market for Black-owned restaurants, WHYY-FM reports.
explains how Penn State and its students are dealing with coronavirus concerns.
Roll Call has everything you need to know about Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

What Goes On.
Budget hearings continue.
House (140MC):
10 a.m.:
 Pa. State Police/Homeland Security
1 p.m.:  Dept. of Corrections, Board of Probation & Parole, and Board of Pardons
Senate (Hearing Room 1, North Office Building):
10 a.m.: 
State System of Higher Education
1 p.m.: Department of State

Also today:
11 a.m.: Pennsylvania State Museum:
 State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Treasurer Joe Torsella co-host a Black History Month event.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Beaver County Commissioner Chairman Daniel C. Camp
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District
6 p.m.: 
Reception for the House Democratic Campaign Committee 
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a mildly offensive $6,000 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to our former PennLive colleague, Chris Hopkins, who celebrates today.

Heavy Rotation.
A total ear worm here: ‘FourFive Seconds,’ by RihannaKanye West, and Sir Paul McCartney. You’ll be humming this one all day.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
The New York Rangers racked up their fifth win in six games, beating Chicago 6-3 in an Original Six match on Wednesday.

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.