Democratic leaders and activists gathered in Evanston on Sunday night to recognize efforts in public service and encourage supporters to volunteer and vote in the upcoming mid-term elections. Speakers at the Democratic Party of Evanston’s annual dinner, including President Obama's former Senior Advisor David Axelrod, highlighted the importance of this election and grassroots mobilization, urging everyone in attendance to put in some hours at phone banks and knock on doors to secure Democratic victories.
“The election is in two-and-a-half weeks, and we have an incredible base of activists here,” State Senator Daniel Biss said. “Our job tonight is to energize voters for this last push.”
Axelrod, a former advisor and campaign strategist for President Obama, headlined the event and received the “Yellow Dog Award” for his service in Democratic politics.
In his remarks to the roughly 160 attendees, Axelrod explained how the first Obama campaign progressed from eight staffers operating out of one office to become “millions of foot soldiers” across the country. This group of supporters nationwide was key to Obama’s nomination and his presidency, he said.
“You are the co-authors, shareholders of that success,” Axelrod told the crowd.
Paul Vallas, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) also addressed the crowd. Vallas highlighted Gov. Pat Quinn’s economic success after “inheriting a crisis,” in addition to criticizing Bruce Rauner, Quinn’s Republican opponent, and his lack of transparency.
“We need to send a message that when you run for public office, you must be open to scrutiny and you must articulate a vision,” Vallas said.
Other awards were presented to Bernice Weissbourd, founder of the non-profit Family Focus, and Bob Creamer, a political strategist. Creamer and many of the other speakers discussed the importance of acting now to help elect Democratic leaders.
Schakowsky introduced Axelrod, explaining his background as a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and his experience working on campaigns from mayoral and senatorial races to presidential elections. She also discussed the legacy of the Obama campaign, including the analytics and strategies he helped create which are still in use today.
“David Axelrod led the best campaigns in the history of the United States of America,” Schakowsky said.
Schakowsky and Axelrod also stressed the importance of remembering the policy impacts of Democratic candidates, notably Obama’s landmark health care legislation. In Illinois alone, over 650,000 previously uninsured citizens now have health care because of the new law, Schakowsky said.
Axelrod told the crowd behind-the-scenes details of the Obama administration’s push to pass the health care law in 2010, including his family's own struggles with issues related to health care. When the law finally passed the House, Axelrod said he broke down crying in his office, realizing the considerable impacts it would have on families.
The dinner is the largest fundraiser of the year for DPOE, according to organizers of the event. Speakers throughout the night mentioned how, since there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, turnout will decide close races.
Axelrod also explained Obama’s reaction to the health care law, emphasizing that the President was proud of the effects the policy will have, not the partisan victory it was for his administration. “That’s why we do the work,” Obama said, according to Axelrod, a phrase he repeated throughout his remarks to the Democratic crowd.
“This isn’t just about whether the blue team beats the red team,” Axelrod said.
Axelrod, like the other Democratic leaders, urged the supporters to assist with the party’s get-out-the-vote effort to help elect leaders who can improve communities throughout Illinois.
“No one can look at this election and say ‘Elections don’t matter,'” he said.