It’s Time for Republicans to Experiment in Getting Out the Vote
One of the recurring lines I’ve heard in my “where do Republicans/conservatives go from here” conversations is, “Why don’t the [Koch Brothers/Sheldon Adelson/wealthy GOP donors] take all the money they wasted on SuperPAC ads last year and this cycle spend it on [their preferred idea].”
Now, sometimes “[their preferred idea]” is a good one, sometimes it sounds like a bad one, and oftentimes we don’t really know if it’s a good one or a bad one, because it either hasn’t been tried, or it hasn’t been tried on the scale that the person is envisioning.
But usually the idea requires some massive investment of millions of dollars, and the speaker usually wants to be in charge of the budget for this multi-million project.
Now, there have to be some ideas out there that can be implemented without the support of a Koch brother or a Sheldon Adelson, ones that can be implemented by the grassroots. Because if our comeback is entirely dependent upon the wealthiest guys making the right choice when it comes to which political activity they want to finance, we’re in trouble.
The first congressional contest of this year is the special U.S. House election for Illinois’ 2nd congressional district in Chicago and a portion of its southern suburbs on April 9.
The district represents a steep challenge for Republicans; the district gave 90 percent of its vote to Barack Obama in 2008 and was until recently represented by Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr., who managed to easily win reelection in 2012 even though he was under criminal investigation and on medical leave. The district scores a D+32 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index, it does have some less heavily Democratic sections, stretching from 53rd Street on the city’s South Side through the south suburbs of Chicago, all the way to Kankakee County.
There are five Republicans running; they’re all relatively unknown. Breitbart’s Rebel Pundit has talked to Paul McKinley and Dr. Eric Wallace. Earlier this month I spoke to the one candidate who has something of a media presence, syndicated radio commentator Lenny McAllister.
I don’t know if this guy is going to win the primary; and I have no illusions at the near-miracle it would take for the Republicans to win this seat. But every Republican who’s depressed by seeing the results of the November election agrees that our party has to get better at getting out the vote, in friendly districts, unfriendly districts, and everywhere in between. This is our first opportunity, and we have a few things going for us: A Democratic primary with 17 (!) candidates, and the low turnout of a special election. (When Rahm Emanuel left to become White House Chief of Staff, there was an open-seat race in another corner of Chicago in 2009. Total turnout: About 41,000 votes, with the winner claiming about 31,000. Rahm Emanuel himself didn’t vote in it, saying he forgot to file for an absentee ballot.) In November’s House race, with Jackson Jr. on the ballot, 67,396 voted for the Republican candidate, Brian Woodworth. How many of those 67,000 can Republicans get out to vote on April 9?
The low chances of success in this contest might actually be liberating. Suppose the Republicans in this district try an idea that backfires terribly; it’s not like a mistake like that would botch a seat we should have won. If it doesn’t work, we scratch it off the list and try another one. This is the time to experiment and try new things. This year we have two more special elections in not-terribly-competitive districts, the South Carolina first district seat on May 7, and the Missouri eighth district seat sometime in the spring (the date isn’t set yet). Then we have the bigger fish, the Massachusetts special Senate election (date to be determined, sometime in late spring, but perhaps as late as around July 4) and this November’s gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.
But note that these ideas are unlikely to come from the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican Governors Association, or the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It’s not that there are bad guys running those groups (although I know some of you disagree). It’s that they’re big institutions with large risks for putting resources – financial, time, manpower – into untested ideas. (You know the old anecdote – any CEO who needs an outside consultant goes with the biggest name, because they know they’ll never get grief for making the safe pick. If you hire somebody who’s relatively unknown, you look like a genius if it works out but you look like a fool if he falls flat on his face. You see the same phenomenon with the National Football League’s annual coaching carousel.)
Actions by the big party committees are guaranteed to attract scrutiny. If the NRCC tries some new strategy for direct mail or organizing volunteers online and it flops, you’ll hear the same mockery from the mainstream media about those hapless Republicans, and more grumbling from the grassroots, outside critics sneering they’re the gang who can’t shoot straight, etc. The grassroots organizers within these particular districts have a lot more leeway to try new ideas.
Patrick Ruffini continues his fascinating dissection of Obama’s successful 2012 campaign, examining the “legacy report” of the campaign:
“Three out of ﬁve team leaders and one in ﬁve team members volunteered 10 or more hours per week, much more than other volunteers.”
80% of Obama volunteers reported living within 10 miles of an office. 631 Obama offices in target states vs. 282 for Romney.
So, presuming you can afford it, a key step is having as many campaign offices as possible in as many different places as possible. You want your campaign to have a presence in every community, whether it’s red, blue, or purple, and to leave no vote unpursued…