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How Democrats are trying to win over Trump-skeptical veterans

 ·  Alex Seitz-Wald, NBC News   ·   Link to Article

WASHINGTON — Democrats think President Donald Trump has created an opening for them to win over veterans and military families, and one liberal veterans group is running what they say is the largest-ever effort of its kind to do so on the Democratic side.

Military voters have traditionally leaned conservative, but have been trending away from the GOP during Trump’s almost four years in office, with a recent Military Times poll showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden edging ahead of the president 43-37 percent among active duty service members, while another 13 percent chose a third-party candidate. 

VoteVets, the Democratic veterans group founded during the height of the Iraq War in 2006, has been spending millions of dollars working to identify and mobilize 250,000 veterans in key states, assembling what they say is a first-of-its kind voter file of persuadable veterans.

The list, cobbled together from a wide range of data, includes both Democratic-leaning veterans who might not turn out without a push as well as those who voted for Trump or third-party candidates in 2016 but are now open to voting for Biden. 

“If you look at the polling data, this is one of the groups that’s moving away from Trump,” said Jon Soltz, a former Army officer who co-founded VoteVets. “The guy didn’t serve, he doesn’t respect service, and he continually attacks veterans and service members from John McCain to [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis and on and on.”

Once the group has identified persuadable veterans, the group’s members, many of whom retired from military careers themselves, reach out via text message to targeted voters, sending up to 60,000 peer-to-peer texts a day drawing on their shared experiences in the military (in-person canvassing is on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.) Direct mail and other messages follow.

Soltz said engagement rates shot up to “astronomical” levels after The Atlantic reported earlier this month that Trump had disparaged service members.

The program is modeled in part on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, with two former Sanders officers, Chuck Rocha and Blake Silberberg, helping run it for VoteVets.

“In my 31 years, I’ve never seen anyone do this for veterans,” said Rocha. “There’s never ever been one-on-one organizing vet-to-vet inside the presidential campaign.”

The Biden campaign has also been focusing on military outreach, featuring a wounded combat veteran in ads that began airing in battleground states Thursday.