Our Programs

Join our 2024 cohort for Run a Strong Campaign in our Region

We are looking for those who want to join the more than 1,200 leaders in our region who have already participated in one of our trainings. By sharing the best ideas and insights across our region in these trainings on political strategy, leaders improve their approaches to winning voters and seats.

Spring election year sessions allowed leaders to learn from top practitioners on the different elements of a strategic campaign today. Sessions on winning election strategies and key issue areas featured presenters of proven approaches and fellow Midwest leaders. In the 2022 course, speakers included Greta Carnes from the Mayor Pete Buttigieg presidential campaign on relational organizing, Senator Cory Booker’s fundraiser Lauren Dikis, digital strategists Wendy Widom and Jenni King-Witzel, communications strategist Joe Zepecki, rural organizers Anthony Flaccavento and Aftyn Behn, EveryDistrict’s Nicole Hobbs on targeting, and Pennsylvania’s Fiona Conroy on mail. 

Apply here.

Whether you are or are planning to run for an office at any level (local, state or federal) in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois, or are volunteering/working with campaigns, you will benefit from becoming part of a network of some of the best leaders in this region and having Rising staff help you wage a successful campaign. We provide a password-protected resource page with pollings, issue talking points, effective communication examples in our region, and individual mentorship for your public leadership goals. 

What participants have said:

“Rust Belt Rising does an amazing job for everyone—including giving those of us in small, rural, and painfully red communities real hope. Every single training is incredible; I learn something new in every conversation. How you do it - I don’t know. The entire Rust Belt Rising program is amazing.” 

—Deirdre Honner, Iosco, Michigan County Democratic Party Trustee

“I had the privilege to be invited to several candidate leadership training forums and Rust Belt Rising has been the most helpful resource. RBR has given region-specific content that is relevant to leading as an elected official in the Midwest. Their one-on-one advice was invaluable towards securing a win in my election. I will draw on their content for as long as I have the opportunity to be a public servant.”  

 —Jyl Hall, Kettering, Ohio City Council member.

“As a candidate, finding networks that can help you hone your messaging, better run your operations, and find community are essential. While national organizations are great, the political landscape can look very different from community to community across the country. Rust Belt Rising provided information, resources, and a network that is focused on Democrats in the Midwest, and helping to build and re-establish Democratic strongholds in our communities. I would strongly encourage Midwestern candidates to connect with and benefit from Rust Belt Rising!”

—Amanda Qualls, 2020 and 2022 Indiana House of Representatives District 49 candidate

“We know that candidates traditionally have a look and frankly a robust educational background — we’ve been told that is the mark. However, today’s politics asks for a more inclusive bold look into the path forward for our communities. Those who write policy should have been impacted by policy; those who fit the bill should also be the ones that the bill fits. We have to wrap our arms around candidates who rise up against all odds to run for office, they are the light our democracy needs in this moment. That is what Rust Belt Rising has meant to me—always there to encourage me in my campaign, to answer questions and provide ideas, as part of a movement of leaders with these values to change the Midwest.”

—Chokwe Pitchford, 2020 Michigan House District 79 candidate, 2022 candidate for Berrien County Board of Commissioners

Our 2022 report

Our 2020 impact

Previous Courses:

Rust Belt Rising offers online learning sessions to our network with presenters such as Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, on how he and Gov. Tony Evers won Wisconsin by talking about what Democrats are for, and Indiana State Rep. Chris Campbell on flipping her district.

Winning Our Region’s Voters

Our Fall 2022 presentations were with pollsters and on timely research to benefit voter outreach. Presenters included Data for Progress, Hart Research, David Binder Research, Breakthrough Campaigns, and Avalanch. 

Win in Your Community

Our fall 2021 and 2023 course allowed participants to learn strategies from leaders of the best recent campaigns in the Midwest with strategies that can improve their efforts, as well as receiving Rising’s individual support. Presenters included Rep. Nikki Budzinski, Rep. Lauren Underwood, MI St. Rep. Christine Morse, St. Rep. Joey Andrews, Rep. Cheri Bustos’ 2020 campaign manager Tom Bryant, and former MI St. Rep. Kristy Pagan.

Building Thriving Communities

This Spring 2021 and 2023 course allowed leaders to learn from practitioners who helped their areas in the Midwest accelerate economic growth and create opportunity for all. Our sessions help participants lead substantively and creatively on economic and community development issues to catalyze initiatives that create good jobs and help families thrive. Our online-based learning sessions equip participants on core issues that Midwesterners want to see leaders address. By sharing the best ideas across our region in trainings on economic, environmental, education, and other community issues, leaders discovered how to get started with initiatives that benefit their area and grow their leadership. Presenters included those who are creating jobs, clean energy transformation, and thriving communities across our region such as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Pittsburgh’s Chief Resilience Officer Grant Ervin, former Michigan St. Rep. Steve Tobocman of Global Detroit, and Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Julia Taylor. 

Spring Win in 2020 and Fall Messaging Bootcamp

Our 2019-20 courses focused on turning one’s story and values into a core message to connect with working families and win. Some of the most effective minds in Midwest politics helped to shape the courses and we shared successful examples from the region throughout.

We took participants through lessons on articulating your “why” for running, how to tell your story, communicate your values and core message, employ effective frames, discuss key Democratic issues, and examples of strategies that are growing regional economies in the Midwest.

Live sessions included Michigan State Rep. Darrin Camilleri on winning back a district that voted for Trump, Ohio State Rep. Kent Smith on how to talk about the economy as a Democrat and growing your communities’ industries to benefit everyone’s wages, John Austin on helping your area thrive economically, Howard Lerner on clean water and environmental issues, health care experts on Claire McAndrew and Mike Naple on what you can do about health care at the state and local level and how to talk about it, Obama speechwriter Sarada Peri on persuasion, and communications guru Anat Shenker-Osorio.

Finding Your Voice in the Rust Belt

Our 2018 training was a series of six interactive online sessions. Twelve candidate participants won elected office in the Midwest.

Topics included coaching on message and storytelling, policy seminars with post-session exercises, and the opportunity to connect with and learn from other candidates. Speakers included Rep. Cheri Bustos, Rep. Lauren Underwood, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning on using your values to persuade on controversial issues that often cause Democrats to lose elections, and a range of policy area experts.