JACKSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio - President Donald Trump's political nightmare, a mother of two in a custom campaign polo, bounded down the driveway like a sweepstakes winner. She had just chatted up a shirtless Republican out to mow his lawn, and he liked what she said.
"He's with me on the cost of health care and preexisting conditions," Lorraine Wilburn, a first-time Democratic candidate for the Ohio statehouse, told her 11-year-old son, Finn. "He said he would take a look at me."
Finn was used to this sort of enthusiasm, ever since his mother started attending liberal activist meetings after the 2016 election. He had learned not to be surprised if Mom started sounding like a comic book heroine akin to Wonder Woman, whose photo she keeps on her phone.
"We are fighting for the mortal soul of our country," Wilburn continued, beaming, as though such struggles can be won in quiet cul-de-sacs outside Canton on a sleepy Saturday morning.
If the Nov. 6 midterm election turns into what many Democrats hope will be a "blue wave," swamping Republican majorities from Congress to state legislatures nationwide, it will have been powered in part by a new and sprawling network of activists on the left who, like Wilburn, have leaped into action over the past two years - energized by their deep desire to thwart the rise of Trump and his agenda.
Like the conservative tea party groups that rose up after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and that helped Republicans retake the House and gain power in state legislatures in 2010, this new liberal movement has emerged largely outside the traditional party structure.
It is led by hundreds of thousands of mostly white, college-educated, middle-aged women who trace their inspiration to the inaugural women's marches in January 2017 and whose ambitions have only grown amid a succession of disagreements with Trump, including over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
What began with meetings at diners and public libraries has matured into a sprawling array of overlapping groups, some intensely local and operating on shoestring budgets and others well-financed and professional.
National networks with names such as Indivisible, Action Together and Together We Will serve as organizing umbrellas for thousands of far-flung, self-directed activists. New national organizations including Swing Left, Sister District and Flippable have more-centralized operations targeting specific races. Still other efforts, such as Mobilize, are little more than new technology platforms that allow activists to connect to campaigns online. All told, this loosely woven framework has added up to a potentially potent force, new on the political left, with a singular goal of winning elections.
But its task is not easy. New polls show that Trump's base also has grown increasingly energized, particularly in the wake of the Kavanaugh battle. The president's approval rating has ticked upward, and he has taken to predicting a "red wave" that will turn back any rising Democratic tide while mocking liberal activists as an "angry, left-wing mob."
Republican Senate candidates have gained ground in conservative states such as North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, where Democrats had hoped their energized supporters could deliver victories but where losses would all but ensure continued GOP control of that chamber.
The energized left could prove more decisive in the fight for control of the House and state legislatures, where the battle is being waged in several dozen Republican-held suburban districts in which highly educated female voters have considerable sway. But even those contests are tight. Although national polls show that Democrats hold a double-digit advantage when voters are asked which party they intend to back in their local House race, a Washington Post-Schar School survey this month of 69 battleground districts showed Democrats with a relatively narrow edge of 50 percent to 46 percent.
Thin margins of error have not discouraged the new foot soldiers of the Democratic resistance. They don't cover their faces with bandannas, speak of socialist revolution or get lost in debates about the best model for Medicare expansion.
Instead, many of them juggle campaign events with school commutes and soccer practice. They leave the kids with their husbands to march, come out of retirement to register voters and form close bonds with neighbors who were strangers when Hillary Clinton was the presumptive president. An aspiring blue wave with a decidedly pink hue, they are women defined by a desire to atone for their relative inaction in 2016.
"People are making social connections that they really, really like," said Abby Karp, an organizer for Swing Left in North Carolina, who works days as a dean at a private school in Greensboro. "I don't even have a Facebook page anymore. I have a political page. I don't know what my cousin is doing. I know what canvass is coming up."
Like the tea party rebellion, this resistance was sparked by a new, culturally transformative president who promised change backed by his party's control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Conservative activists then and liberal activists now testify to many of the same symptoms that drove them to house parties and protests: sleepless nights, a fear for their children's future, and an existential anxiety about the country they love and the values they hold dear.
Crystal Sousa, a Democratic teacher in Denair, in California's Central Valley, who was moved by Trump's victory to run for a seat on the local school board that had long been Republican-held until she won, remembers walking upstairs on election night to find her 15-year-old daughter. She was in her bedroom Googling houses and teaching jobs in Canada, because she thought the family would have to move because she had a preexisting medical condition.
Sousa now coordinates with 12 grass-roots groups in the area and hundreds of volunteers who drive out two hours from the coast to the valley every weekend to knock on doors to unseat Rep. Jeff Denham, the local Republican in a district Clinton won.
"I didn't realize it was going to be life-changing," she said of the first house party she hosted in 2017.
As a movement, the Trump resistance appeared more quickly and grew larger than the tea party did after Obama took office, said Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard who has studied both. "They are not demanding purity," she said of the new uprising. "They are going to revitalize the roots of the Democratic Party and they are going to feminize it, but they are not going to turn into Bernie Sanders."
The nation's self-sorting has left blue urban areas surrounded by seas of red, and that has prompted a resistance on the move as well. Brooklyn liberals, lacking competitive races nearby, travel Saturdays to rural Pennsylvania to walk neighborhoods.
"People say you are doing so much," said Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, a theology professor at Loyola University, who is organizing multiple groups in the Chicago area through Sister District, a group working on legislative races in other states. "I say it's cheaper than therapy."
Efforts are often jury-rigged from the ground up. At a congressional fundraiser at a restaurant in Albuquerque in late August, members of the local Indivisible group - part of one of the largest networks or organizations - helped stage a silent auction that netted nearly $13,000 for Democratic House candidate Xochitl Torres Small, who has a shot at winning a Republican-held seat. The tour of a nearby Navajo rug market went for $120. The Indian food feast for six sold for $360.
ActBlue, a central conduit for Democratic campaign contributions, has recorded 4.5 million contributors so far in the 2018 cycle, with about 61 percent of the money coming from women. That compares to 1.5 million donations in the 2014 cycle, when about 52 percent of the money came from women.
"Coming together is the antidote. It's the antithesis of the divisiveness," said Lauren Friedman, an Ohio state Senate candidate and mother of three, who started organizing with Wilburn in Canton days after Trump's election. "Even us just going and canvassing - that is making a change."
Wilburn still remembers her disbelief on election night in 2016. A liberal activist for years, she did not vote that year. "I used the excuse of being a busy mom for checking out of the process for a moment," she said. "Even those of us who are involved had gotten too complacent."
Within days, she had connected with Friedman, another mother at her children's school, through the Facebook page of Pantsuit Nation, a national pro-Clinton group. Everything since has been a blur, the dozens of Facebook groups she has joined, the meetings with congressional staff members, the seven buses they chartered to bring 350 people to the inaugural Women's March in Washington, that first time they booked the local library for a meeting of the group now called Action Together Stark.
More than 50 attended, then more than 150 came to the second gathering, then more than 200, almost all of them women with similar backgrounds.
After Wilburn decided to run for a local seat, she persuaded Friedman, who had served as a Navy intelligence specialist in the Persian Gulf, to run as well. Both women quit their jobs to run full time.
"I tell her, 'You save the world, and I'll make the tacos,' " said Wilburn's husband, Jake, who wears his wife's campaign shirt, which includes an image of Wonder Woman.
They live in Stark County, Ohio, a bellwether of the ultimate bellwether state, where Obama won twice before Trump walloped Clinton by 17 points, the largest Republican victory since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The races they chose are not easy ones, far off the national radar. The last time Friedman's Senate seat was contested, in 2014, the Democratwon only 33 percent of the vote. Democrats didn't even field a candidate in Wilburn's House district in the past two cycles.
But by the time they decided to run for office, a new liberal infrastructure had sprung up around them, shifting their view of what was possible.
A group of female filmmakers, One Vote at a Time, flew out a team of six to shoot and produce free video ads for them, while a separate collection of ad executives in California, Civic Power of Media, offered to take over Friedman's social media efforts through the election. Red2Blue, a group born of resistance meetings at a Brooklyn synagogue, has organized text-message canvassing for Friedman from the Canton voter file, communicating through Slack with activists nationwide.
Another group, Code Blue, founded by a Los Angeles television producer of reality food shows, has been phoning voters in the district for Wilburn. Matriots, an Ohio political action committee founded by six Columbus women who attended the Women's March, has been sending campaign checks. Run for Something, a group co-founded by the Clinton campaign's email director, provided candidate training.
The work on behalf of Wilburn and Friedman benefits Democrats up the ticket. When Wilburn hands out literature, she includes the entire Democratic slate, pushing votes for Sen. Sherrod Brown, gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray and Ken Harbaugh, a Navy pilot who has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for a Republican-held seat.
It is too soon to know what the effect will be or whether the homogeneity of the early efforts will make it more difficult to connect with voters who do not resemble the new activists. Many of the grass-roots groups have made efforts to appeal to black and Latino voters, a crucial demographic for Democrats, with limited success.
In 2017, Skocpol, the Harvard researcher, sent surveys to the memberships of all the resistance groups she had identified in eight counties that Trump had won in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The 337 activists who replied fit a remarkably narrow demographic: 90 percent were women, 90 percent were white, and 83 percent had either bachelor's or graduate degrees. The median age was 55.
On a recent Friday night, the McHenry County Democratic Party gathered at Cathy Johnson's home in Marengo, Illinois - almost all of them women. When they entered, the first thing they saw was a table covered in all the necessary tools: postcards, stamps and labels with the names of voters organized by district.
"There's something new to be angry about every day," said Kathryn Potter, 34, a stay-at-home mother who lived in the 6th Congressional District.
SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, Calif. -- It is the fall harvest here in this fertile stretch of oaks and hills that produces some of the country's best wine. This season, though, workers also are plucking the sticky, fragrant flowers of a new crop.
Marijuana is emerging among the vineyards, not as a rival to the valley's grapes but as a high-value commodity that could help reinvigorate a fading agricultural tradition along the state's Central Coast. Brushed by ocean breeze, cannabis has taken root, offering promise and prompting the age-old question of whether there can be too much of a good thing.
Cannabis has been fully legal in California for less than a year, and no place is generating more interest in it than the stretch of coast from Monterey to here in Santa Barbara County, where farmers now hold more marijuana cultivation licenses than in any other county.
The shift in legal cultivation patterns is coming at the expense of the remote Emerald Triangle, the trio of far-northern California counties where an illegal marijuana industry has thrived for decades. The Central Coast is not growing more marijuana than the Emerald Triangle, but it could be on track to grow more legally, if trends hold.
"We're nearly right in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the two big consumer hubs," said John De Friel, whose 17-acre Raw Garden Farm and seed lab sits among cabbage patches and wineries. "We really didn't foresee how advantageous that would turn out to be."
The regulated California cannabis market is a $4-billion-a-year industry, a boon to the local tax base and to a generation of entrepreneurial farmers more schooled in the agricultural sciences than in the dark arts of deception.
But legalization already is reordering the business and geography of cannabis cultivation, pushing crops into places they have never been. The new cultivations are challenging long-held beliefs in some conservative communities, including this one, where a rural libertarian streak is confronting a crop still stigmatized despite its legality.
The novelty of cannabis here also is a benefit. In northern California, the marijuana industry's decades-old outlaw culture has proved a major obstacle to transforming the black market into a legal one. With so much lower-cost, unregulated marijuana on the market there, farmers complying with the stiff, expensive new regulations are struggling to make it into the light.
Here, along the Central Coast, growers complying with the licensing process are having an easier time without a thriving black market as competition. California farmers have only until the end of the year to meet the licensing and regulatory requirements - a process that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars - or face the law.
While expensive, the commercial logic to get legal is undeniable. In approving recreational marijuana use in November 2016, California voters vastly expanded the legal market, which previously was accessible only to the roughly 200,000 residents with medical marijuana cards. Now, marijuana can be sold to the entire drinking-age population of the nation's most populous state.
The initiative allowed counties and cities to make their own rules, including outright bans on sale and cultivation. As a result, hundreds of potential growers are still "jurisdiction shopping," trying to find counties with the lowest cannabis taxes, the right climate, an experienced labor force and a favorable location.
Santa Barbara County set its tax on cannabis revenue at 4 percent, the lower end of the scale, hoping to attract farmers to a place where many agriculture jobs have been lost to the economics of free trade.
The approximately 330 acres under cannabis cultivation here is a tiny fraction of the land devoted to vineyards, which once helped replace a declining beef and dairy cattle industry in the valley. But government officials and growers acknowledge that more cannabis will come, in part because the "Santa Barbara brand" built by its pinot noirs could help sell the locally grown product to new consumers.
Just how much more is a concern to some government officials, all of whom see the need for new crops to boost the tax base but worry whether marijuana in the county's northern hills and southern greenhouses will change the local culture.
"What sets Santa Barbara County apart is our willingness to face reality - that marijuana is already in our communities and that pretending it will go away on its own is fantasyland," said Das Williams, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who opposed state legalization. "But I'll be the first to say I hope it doesn't get too big."
Along the southern tip of the county, up against the Pacific Ocean, a cut-flower industry once thrived. Acres of greenhouses nurtured carnations, daisies and orchids, supervised by the descendants of Dutch and Japanese immigrants who generations before picked this place for its climate.
The decline has been precipitous. Since the U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia was signed six years ago, what was once a historic element of the county's economy has been decimated.
Graham Farrar, in a pair of Vans, has stepped in.
A Santa Barbara County native, Farrar is the operating partner of Glass House Farms, which owns about five acres of greenhouse space just outside Carpinteria.
It is a state-of-the-art cannabis farm that produces thousands of pounds a year and has 50 employees, who unlike vineyard farm hands can work full-time because of the more frequent cannabis harvest schedule. Three annual harvests are common in cannabis greenhouse operations.
Standing in a greenhouse that once grew Gerbera Daisies and is now row after row of cannabis, Farrar notes the irony of his position.
The free-trade agreement was designed in part to help Colombia fight its problem with coca, the plant that supplies the key ingredient in cocaine. Instead, it opened up greenhouse space thousands of miles away, where he is growing what the federal government classifies as an illegal drug more dangerous than cocaine.
"Here we're just replacing one cut flower with another," Farrar said.
Farrar's operation here is more clean room than farm.
A rack of dry-cleaned lab coats awaits workers, who pick, dry and package the flower for sale. There is a small nursery for research. And each greenhouse, rigged with drip irrigation, is fitted with a $100,000 odor-control device to keep the pungent cannabis smell from nearby homes.
"Hiding is no longer a valued skill," said Farrar, 41, who worked in the software industry and has a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. "The net of all this - the government, the climate, the compliance culture - is that this is a very goldilocks spot."
Farrar also has secured one of three cannabis retail licenses that the city of Santa Barbara is issuing for recreational sales. His goal is to transform the traditional marijuana dispensaries, which often have the furtive feel of an adult book store, into something appealing to new customers.
There will be a Santa Barbara County-grown section, but the store will have flowers and oils from all over the state. Eventually, Farrar said, it will evolve into a showroom as more and more first-time users find what they like and then choose delivery services. California-grown cannabis cannot be legally delivered outside the state.
"Most customers have not even walked in the door yet," he said. "And Santa Barbara, as a brand, rings a lot more bells for people than other places."
The initial quarterly cannabis tax revenue is due soon at the county treasury. Some early estimates say it could run between $2 million and $3 million, money that will go toward enforcing the cannabis law with some left over for public services.
In recent weeks, sheriff's deputies have carried out raids targeting farms in the backcountry areas of Tepusquet Canyon and Cuyama Valley, the county's two traditional if small-scale marijuana-growing areas, seizing plants worth millions of dollars.
Large cannabis plants washed down into Montecito, just a few miles from Farrar's greenhouses, during the catastrophic mudslides earlier this year. They served as clues that there are farms amid the avocado and citrus orchards that authorities have yet to find.
"I get that it's a whack-a-mole approach, but we have to do something to make this fair for those complying with the law," said Dennis Bozanich, the deputy county executive who manages the cannabis portfolio. "Our job is to make life as hard on them as possible and hope they may just go somewhere else."
Williams, the board chairman who opposed state legalization, said the cannabis tax revenue also will help "to pay for some mental health services and save a few public libraries."
But, given marijuana's high profit margins, he worries that it will wipe out what remains of the cut-flower industry. He also worries about the cultural message that the proximity of cannabis production might send to the county's young people.
"I grew up in this community, and I do not know, for any practical purposes, how marijuana could be any more accessible than it already is," he said. "But I do see as a danger anything that legitimizes it any more."
A few of the hoop houses at Iron Angel Ranch - steel, semicircle rings topped with plastic canopies that shield cannabis plants from the sun and wind - are high up a steep hill overlooking the Sanford Winery.
They are a legacy of the gray-market days, when farmers could grow marijuana for medical use. The risk of a raid was high. These were out-of-sight, out-of-mind "grows" that today are a small part of what the farm is producing.
Rows of hoop houses stretch out below, just along Santa Rosa Road, which connects Iron Angel to Highway 101, the main north-south artery just a few miles away. Mathew Kaplan, who helps run the farm and markets the cannabis under the name Vertical, said the 20 acres now under cultivation will grow to five times that amount by spring.
"We get lumped in with farmers in this county, and this county takes care of its farmers," Kaplan said. "That just isn't the case in other parts of the state."
But Kaplan and his partners plan to make Iron Angel a destination, as well, borrowing from the model that Sanford and other neighboring wineries have used for years.
He said tourists might one day be able to stay in cabins around the 1,500-acre hillside property, which overlooks the Santa Ynez River, racehorse training stables and vineyards that stretch into the middle distance. Oaks dripping with Spanish moss cluster around the land. There are a few Black Angus cattle and a bobcat, though he calls the latter "the laziest or slowest in the world," given all the deer around.
"I absolutely want more of us to come here; it would be great," Kaplan said. "It's always better to be part of a broader community."
How many more? The high price of land here will limit the number of new cannabis operations in the valley. But the economics are appealing: One acre of marijuana yields a product worth about five times that of an acre of grape vines.
The county has considered capping how many licenses to allow. But for now, local officials are letting the market decide who comes and who survives.
"Agriculture is always changing," said Joan Hartmann, the county supervisor who represents much of the Santa Ynez Valley. "For me, this is about keeping agriculture here and keeping it profitable."