CLEVELAND — An Ohio group that specializes in nudging suburban women toward progressive candidates will launch a national podcast and expand into other states — an effort to maintain the coalition that helped elect President Joe Biden and other Democrats.
Red, Wine and Blue plans to replicate its digital and social media targeting strategies in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All five states have important Senate races on the ballot in 2022.
Exit polls from the 2020 election found that Biden beat former President Donald Trump decisively among suburban women, an outcome Republicans feared after they lost seats in the House two years earlier. Red, Wine and Blue’s podcast, “The Suburban Women Problem,” takes its name from a 2018 comment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had acknowledged that his party was in danger of slipping even further with the crucial voting bloc.
The question for Democrats now, said Katie Paris, the group's founder, is how they can retain independent women and those who split with the GOP to vote for Biden and for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in this year’s Senate runoffs in Georgia. She estimated that more than 100,000 women interact with the group’s posts and original content each day.
“We’re going to make sure they remain engaged,” said Paris, a veteran of national progressive media campaigns who formed the nonprofit two years ago from her home in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. “We just want to show up fully in their lives.”
The co-hosts of the podcast, which debuts May 12, are Rachel Vindman, who emerged as an activist after her husband, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, was a key witness in Trump’s first impeachment trial; Democratic Georgia state Rep. Jasmine Clark, a microbiologist and the first Black woman to hold her seat; and Amanda Weinstein, an Air Force veteran and economics associate professor at the University of Akron.
“One of the things 2020 gave us was a point of no return,” said Vindman, who lives in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. “Our eyes and ears are open. It’s our choice where we go from here. The direction of our country will go where we nurture it.”
Republicans are cognizant, as Graham was in 2018, that the suburbs are a problem for them. Recent research from N2 America, a center-right nonprofit focused on the suburbs, found that among a panel of 40 college-educated suburban men and women, most were cautiously optimistic about a return to normalcy in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. And while most of those surveyed approved of Biden’s job performance, they expressed plenty of concerns. An Arizona woman worried about border security. A Georgia woman worried about higher taxes.
"President Biden didn’t win a mandate — from state legislative races to House races, Republicans did quite well — but he’s acting like he did," N2 America co-founder Marie Sanderson said in a statement to NBC News. "Our research shows suburban voters are noticing this disconnect. The details of his far-left policies are very concerning to these voters."
In Ohio, Red, Wine and Blue began by forging alliances with other local women’s organizations and grew its community largely online via Facebook and Twitter but also through in-person meetups over a glass of wine. Paris and other members have starred in videos — a mix of cheekiness and information — designed to go viral within the social circles that frequently intersect with suburban women: PTAs, book clubs, play dates and neighborhood pages. The goal is to get women talking about their values and their choices and aligning them at the ballot box.
In one satirical video, a woman puts on a helmet and arms herself with plastic toys after watching Trump warn about crime and violence spilling over from cities into the suburbs, a message steeped in racist fearmongering that was central to the former president’s re-election campaign. As she steps onto her front porch, ready for combat, the only sounds are birds chirping and a neighbor inquiring if she’s OK. Text appears on screen as the woman returns indoors with a puzzled look on her face: “The real scary place? Trump’s imagination.”
Statewide, Ohio went for Trump by 8 percentage points, the same margin as in 2016, but Paris believes her efforts helped narrow the margins in deep red suburban areas such as Delaware County, outside Columbus, and Warren County, outside Cincinnati. And in the western suburbs of Cleveland, Democrat Monique Smith, who participated in Red, Wine and Blue programming, flipped a state legislative seat that Republicans had held for years.
“She’s making inroads and supporting real quality candidates like the state rep seats we have swung,” former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said of Paris. Suburban women, Pepper added, are “clearly the very high-growth part of the left side of politics.”
Red, Wine and Blue began dabbling outside Ohio politics after the 2020 elections. The group raised money for food banks during the Texas power grid failure, complete with a jab at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for leaving his family’s dog at home while leaving the country during the crisis. The group also has promoted the For the People Act, federal legislation that has passed the House and would expand voting rights across the country. And Clark, who represents the Atlanta suburbs, said Red, Wine and Blue’s efforts deserve some credit for flipping the two Senate seats in Georgia.
“Was it solely what pushed us over the edge? Absolutely not,” Clark said. “But was it a critical piece of the puzzle? Was it a part of a movement? Absolutely.”