314 Action Looks to Play in Democratic Primaries

Group is supporting candidates with scientific backgrounds

Marchers, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, center, lead the March for Science on Earth Day in 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Marchers, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, center, lead the March for Science on Earth Day in 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 21, 2018 at 5:00am

314 Action, a group backing candidates with scientific backgrounds, has made new ad buys in a handful of media markets as it looks to be a player in upcoming Democratic primaries.

Along with the ad buys, 314 Action is releasing the results of a national poll conducted earlier this month that showed 72 percent of those surveyed said they were more inclined to support candidates with experience in science.

“What our organization is doing is going to have an impact in how the Democrats take back the House,” said Joshua Morrow, the group’s executive director. “And clearly from this poll, our scientists are in a position to lead the charge to take back the House.”

First, 314 Action is trying to ensure its preferred candidates survive the primaries. It has endorsed 10 House challengers so far, and is expected to announce more endorsements next month.

The group, which has an independent expenditure arm, has reserved nearly $2 million in ad time in the Los Angeles, Detroit and Seattle media markets in the final two weeks leading up to each state’s primaries.

314 Action made the early reservation to secure more favorable rates, and it is still determining which candidates the ads will support.

The group reserved $1.05 million worth of ad time in the Los Angeles market. It has endorsed three Democratic candidates in California: Former President Barack Obama technology adviser Brian Forde in the 45th District, cancer researcher Hans Keirstead in the 48th District, and physician Mai Khanh Tran in the 39th District.

In Detroit, 314 Action has reserved $500,000 worth of ad time. It has endorsed tech engineer Suneel Gupta in Michigan’s 11th District. Morrow said the group has also been impressed by patent lawyer and stem cell research advocate Ellen Lipton, who is running in the nearby 9th District.

The group has not yet endorsed a candidate in Washington, though it could weigh in on the 8th District race — a top target for Democrats following GOP Rep. Dave Reichert’s retirement. Pediatrician Kim Schrier and Shannon Hader, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official, are both running in the Democratic primary.

Morrow said conversations have started among other outside groups looking to support Democrats so they can coordinate resources. But he said 314 Action is willing to take sides in primaries, especially to help the scientists who are typically first-time candidates.

“We are not afraid to get involved in primaries,” he said.

Morrow estimated his group would be particularly active in five to seven House races.

314 Action could also get involved in the general election races for Senate in Nevada, where it has endorsed Democratic Rep. and computer programmer Jacky Rosen, and Tennessee, where former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, a physics major in college, is running.

Morrow said scientists have bipartisan appeal to voters who are disenchanted with politicians.

“Scientists who work in labs, they’re used to collaborating,” Morrow said. “So for them, it’s about solving a problem.”

The group’s poll, released Tuesday, showed respondents — both those who identified as Democrats and those who backed President Donald Trump — were more inclined to support candidates with scientific backgrounds. Fifty-five percent of Trump voters surveyed said they were much more or somewhat more likely to support such candidates, compared to 82 percent of Democratic respondents.

The poll showing support for candidates with scientific backgrounds was conducted by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling. It surveyed 745 voters nationwide Feb. 15-16 via landline phones.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the congressman who retired in Washington.