Republican Ground Game to Make the Difference in November

I make fun of the absurdity of polls showing Obama outperforming his 2008 turnout advantage for three main reasons:

  1. First. it is based on sensationalistic hype surrounding an allegedly never-before-seen micro-targeting that will revolutionize turnout. I don’t buy sensationalistic marketing claims in any aspect of my life and especially when it comes from a guy who claimed he could cool the planet and push back the tides when he was running last time.
  2. Second, the enthusiasm among Obama’s “coalition of the ascendent”[the predicate for Democrat talk of dominance for decades to come] no where near matches 2008 levels, yet polling models assume even higher rates of these minority groups will turn out this year despite far lower enthusiasm.
  3. Third, the GOP ground game is vastly superior to its 2008 half-hearted effort. We’ve blogged dramatic shifts in voter registration in Iowa, a net change away from Democrats to Independents of nearly 1,000,000 registrations among Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina since the 2008, and serious ugliness for Democrats in Ohio yet our friendly unbiased pollsters see huge Democrat turnout advantages everywhere they look.

Now the Washington Post is picking up on this third point with a write-up on GOP successes on the ground this Fall that could add as much as 3% to Romney’s total:

Organizers from both parties report growing evidence that new voter-outreach programs funded by conservative groups could give GOP nominee Mitt Romney an edge if the race is close. In the key battleground states, Obama’s celebrated network of organizing experts and neighborhood captains is being challenged by a conservative coalition that includes the National Rifle Association, the billionaire-backed Americans for Prosperity and a newly muscular College Republicans organization with a $16 million budget The conservative groups “are fully funded and ready for hand-to-hand combat,” said Steve Rosenthal, a Democratic organizer.

  • Florida — Republican legislation effectively dampened pro-Democratic voter registration efforts during critical months in 2011 and 2012, resulting in registration gains for Republicans in the crucial Tampa Bay area since the 2008 election.
  • Ohio — the evangelical group behind a successful anti-same-sex-marriage amendment that helped mobilize conservative voters in 2004 says it has a network of 10,000 churches and a database of millions of rural voters who will be targeted with in-person visits and voter guides.
  • Wisconsin — conservatives have built a house-by-house turnout machine already tested in the successful campaign to fight a union-backed recall of GOP Gov. Scott Walker in June.

Experts say that if Obama’s lead in key states extends beyond a few percentage points, even the most effective field operation on the right may not be enough to prevent a Romney loss. But, they say, the operation can add two to three points to the Republican’s total and, in a close contest, that could be a significant difference…”It’s a much more robust field operation than the 2008 McCain campaign had, that’s clear,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager.

Wisconsin

One of the major players on the right is Americans for Prosperity, a group co-founded by conservative billionaire David Koch. The group plans to spend $125 million on the 2012 campaign, half of it devoted to field organizing in political battlegrounds. AFP has 116 staff members on the ground targeting 9 million voters the group has found to be “up in the air” about how to assess Obama’s economic record, said its president, Tim Phillips. The group has honed many of its techniques in Wisconsin, where it spent millions on the effort to keep Walker in office. The group there is deploying a new smartphone application, Prosperity Knocks, to guide canvassers to the right doors. Of the group’s 120,000 members in Wisconsin, it has 4,000 super activists, dubbed “Prosperity Champions,” who have participated in multiple actions, the group says. “This is a totally new ballgame,” said Luke Hilgemann, the Wisconsin director for AFP, who oversees 12 full-time staff members and thousands of volunteers in his state. “We’re matching the left and exceeding them in lots of things that we’re doing.” Wisconsin Family Action, another social conservative organization in the state, is sending voter guides and DVDs to its network of 3,000 churches, said Julaine Appling, the group’s president. “Here in Wisconsin, we’ve become pretty well-schooled in ground games,” she said.

Ohio

Activists report similarly honed skills in Ohio. Phil Burress, chairman of the group Citizens for Community Values Action and the leader of the marriage campaign in 2004, said he has been operating half a dozen phone-bank centers since May. He said he has a database of 8.4 million Ohioans and plans to distribute 2 million voter guides to 10,000 churches, with a focus on rural parts of the state that he said posted low turnout in 2008. Burress said many of his activists are motivated by Obama’s recent announcement supporting same-sex marriage. “It’s like 2004 all over again,” he said.

College Republicans and the NRA

In Ohio and other states, an emerging force in conservative voter outreach is the College Republican National Committee, which has expanded this year to 63 paid, full-time field staff members and has formed a joint super PAC with American Crossroads, the group founded in part by Karl Rove, who was an adviser to President George W. Bush, to target young voters. Gun enthusiasts will be hearing with greater intensity this year from the NRA, which spent $30 million in 2008 and plans to focus less this year on television advertising and more on voter recruiting. The group has hired 25 campaign field directors and posted them in battleground states, while it has begun churning out hundreds of thousands of pieces of targeted literature, said Chris Cox, the group’s chief political strategist. Cox said advancements in technology have improved the organization’s voter-targeting abilities “from a traditional shotgun blast into more of a rifle shot.”

Florida

In Florida, the Atlas Project has identified Democratic vulnerability in critical areas of the state. For example, the organization found that Democratic Party registration in the counties in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has dropped by about 64,000 since the 2008 election, while Republican registration has increased by more than 50,000. Obama campaign officials point out that registration in Florida and many other states will continue for several more weeks and that Democrats are on track to make big gains. For the past two months, they said, the number of registered Democrats has increased more than the number of registered Republicans in Florida and other key states with party registration. Even in 2008, a large share of the Democratic registration gains did not occur until the final push.

Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida who has studied the effects of voter laws, said his data show that Florida’s Republican-backed legislation dampened registration in 2011 and early 2012, as some liberal groups stopped signing up voters. But since the courts rejected the law in May, Smith said, “I think we are seeing an effective effort to catch up.” Democrats on the ground remain worried. “There’s no question the legislature and the governor made it more of a challenge” to register Democrats this year, said Dan Gelber, a former legislator from Miami Beach who has been assisting the Obama team with voter registration. “I would not counsel overconfidence in Florida, notwithstanding the daily missteps of the Romney campaign.”

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