Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Don't Congratulate Ourselves Too Much for 2010 Election Win: 2012 Won't Be So Easy

Democrats well funded permanent political infrastructure gives them huge advantage over GOP/Tea Party volunteers and ad hoc organization!

I know readers are probably burnt out on election related analysis, but this subject can't wait another two years!

The good news is that the GOP victory on November 2nd was historic and stunning. That's also the bad news as it tends to make us think we did everything right and have only to replicate that plan and win just as big in 2012. It won't be so easy as that. Besides, too  much self congratulation may actually hurt our chances in 2012 by preventing us from undertaking the critical analysis of what did not go so right on November 2nd.

In the wake of the November 2nd election leaders of the Establishment GOP were pointing fingers at Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and the Tea Parties trying to make the case that their advocacy of conservatives harmed our chances of retaking the U.S. Senate. Rubbish! Except for a handful of difficult races, most of DeMint's candidates won! And without the Tea Parties we wouldn't have won half the races we did.

But, the nagging question following the election is why did some of our candidates who were ahead or tied in the polls lose? I mentioned that anomaly in an earlier post but Davis Intelligence has this chart which illustrates the matter perfectly. It compares the GOP Senate candidate's polling average  from Real Clear Politics to the actual election result and shows that GOP candidates did worse than expected in key states.


Were all the polls wrong:? Dick Morris argues no and I agree. Morris points out that Obama did find some success in his last minute effort to motivate the Democrat base to vote. In another article he points to the power of the Democrat Labor Unions in winning a number of these close contests. This corresponds with my own post election analysis where the weakness of the GOP groundgame in get out the vote efforts in some key states was overwhelmed by the Dem's union and progressive political infrastructure.

GOP's Failure to Learn the Lesson of 2006 and 2008

Prior to 2006 the GOP's groundgame, run by Karl Rove in the White House in 2004 and with the 2000 Bush campaign was a marvelous success. In 2004 that operation was at the height of it's power as described in this fascinating New York Times Sunday Magazine feature called "Who Lost Ohio?" This article was the subject of one of my very first blog posts after starting Mike's America with my take on it that it wasn't that Dems "lost" Ohio in 2004 (though they certainly did) but that Bush WON!

In 2004 the effort that helped Bush win Ohio and re-election was a wonder of technology combined with volunteer zeal. But it's a model for victory that failed in 2006 when Dems retook Congress and was hopelessly overwhelmed by the billion dollar Obama campaign juggernaut in 2008.

In 2008 Democrats used their huge funding advantage (Obama reneged on his pledge to abide by federal campaign financing limits) to create the most aggressive grass roots organization in presidential campaign history. Here's an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article describing that effort:
Democrats Far Outspend Republicans On Field Operations, Staff Expenditures
The Wall Street Journal]
November 3, 2008

The national and state Democratic parties are spending far more heavily than their Republican counterparts on field operations, after years of ceding the advantage in ground-level organizing to the Republican voter-turnout machine.

Finance records show Democrats have hired five to 10 times more paid field staff in swing states than the Republicans.

Democrats have set up 770 offices nationwide, including in some of the most Republican areas of traditionally "red" states -- like one in Goshen, Ind., a manufacturing town with a population of about 30,000. It is the seat of Elkhart County, which voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 by more than 40 percentage points. By comparison, Republicans have about 370 offices nationwide.

The focus on the ground-game is a change from past election cycles, when the Democratic party's prime objective was getting as many broadcast ads on the air as possible. In recent campaigns, Democrats outsourced their ground organization to outside groups, such as labor unions and liberal activists.
Republicans say their volunteer-based turnout machinery from 2004 is intact and more than twice as productive as last cycle in making phone calls and house calls. "This operation is working on all eight cylinders," said Rich Beeson, the political director of the Republican National Committee and a veteran of the 2004 effort.

Despite the best efforts of Republicans and a "volunteer based turnout machinery from 2004" that effort failed in 2008. And while we had some dramatic improvement in 2010, particularly in the Great Lakes region and Upper Midwest (compare maps of 2008 and 2010 wins) some of the wins for statewide contests were by narrow margins such as the Ohio and Florida governor's race and the Pennsylvania senate race.

Obviously the Dem 2008 political machine largely based on a permanent paid professional infrastructure failed to stem the 2010 tide of Tea Party enthusiasm in states like Wisconsin, Indiana or Missouri. But that same Democrat machine did it's job and got out the vote to save Harry Reid in the Nevada Senate race and gave Michael Bennet a big push to defeat Ken Buck in Colorado using the Labor Union-Progressive model that worked so well for Dems in 2006 and 2008.

2010: RNC Dropped the Ball

Not only did we fight the battle of 2010 with a largely outmoded get out the vote effort, but it was one in which we were certainly not "working on all eight cylinders" as Rick Beeson, Republican National Committee political director described the 2008 effort.

Recently, Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins, the man charged with coordinating our national effort in 2010, resigned from the post with the following letter in which he lays out the shortcomings of our effort this year. The bottom line? A severe lag in overall fundraising for the RNC prevented the full implementation of even the outdated get out the vote effort and meant that we lost 21 House seats that might have been won had resources been available (see the list on page three):

RNC Gentry Collins Resignation Letter

2012: Have We Learned Our Lesson?

We got lucky in 2010 and won a stunning victory in many ways despite these handicaps. But we can't count on luck, or the same level of Tea Party enthusiasm to carry us through to victory again. Consider also that according to one analysis of exit poll data from 2010 29 million Obama 2008 voters failed to turn out in to vote in the midterm. Can we count on them to stay home in 2012? Can we count on the fickle Independent voters who flocked to Obama in 2008 and abandoned him in 2010 to stay with us in 2012?

Still, we won a great number of advantages as a result of the 2010 election. Sean Trende writing at Real Clear Politics offers a comprehensive analysis of the trends in key states which is very encouraging as we look ahead. But, a Boyscout would remind you of his motto to "Be Prepared." It's better to prepare for the worst case and win than hope for the best and lose. We now have less than two years to correct the mistakes at the Republican National Committee and develop a better and more aggressive get out the vote machine better able to compete against our well funded and well organized adversaries.

It's time to stop celebrating our 2010 win and take a serious look at how we can do it better two years from now.

In February 2009 I published a Blue Print for the Coming GOP Revolution in which I asked "are we prepared now to meet that challenge or will we fall back on the business as usual strategies which may have worked 20 years ago but failed utterly in the last two elections?" It's clear that in some ways we are still locked in the same "this is how we've always done it" kind of thinking that no longer works as effectively as it once did.

Our opponents manage a permanent year-round political machine through Labor Unions and progressive groups. For the left, the campaign never ends. We are still conducting campaigns based largely on volunteer efforts which fold up the tent and disappear until next time. We start nearly from scratch every two years. The Dems never stop organizing and building.

In that February 2009 post I was encouraged by RNC Chairman Michael Steele's initial efforts to invite new ideas and plans to expand the use of new media and social networking as a 21st Century tool to build the parties grass roots. Unfortunately, his leadership on these issues have not produced the kind of results which must occur if we are to be fully competitive (as opposed to being lucky) in 2012. Steele's weakness in this area and his inability to raise the funds necessary for the fullest get out the vote effort in 2010 mean that big changes are necessary at the RNC.

Support Boots on the Ground and Build a PERMANENT Grass Roots Infrastructure

There is a vast reservoir of electoral support in this country that goes untapped year after year. Millions of Americans are not even registered to vote or vote only sporadically. The party which finds a way to maintain the loyalty of it's voters and add those to their roles who currently don't participate will win in 2012. Yet I don't see much of an effort by the GOP and conservative groups to build the political infrastructure, particularly at the grass roots, that has this goal. Where was the voter registration effort in 2010? If one existed, it was nearly silent.

While we fold up our tents Democrats soldier on in their union halls and progressive groups. Their fundraising and organizing never stops and nor does the effort to identify new voters and plug them into the machine that cranks out progressive voters every two years. Why don't Republicans and Tea Parties take a page from that book and do the same?

A More Personal Approach to Voters is What Grass Roots are All About!

A September 2010 survey by Pew Research for the People and the Press found that while people still rely on television news for information that number is relatively flat. The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News, the most popular cable news program, only gets about 3-4 million television viewing households out of an audience of 100 million households. And as influential as Talk Radio is (see the chart at the bottom of this report ) it still leaves the vast majority of Americans not getting the message. Where are the rest of these folks getting their information?

Get the Message Out!
To expand our voting base we must reach the people who have tuned out, or never tuned in in the first place. Consultants might help with marketing analysis to help identify some of these individuals, but nothing works better than direct person to person contact from someone in the same community or state.

In my February 2009 Blueprint for a Conservative Comeback, I stressed the need to support new media like blogs, which are a great tool that can reach out to many of the folks who might otherwise not hear our message from other sources. Note the strong upward spike in the Pew Center graph for online news.

More and more people are going online for news and information and conservative blogs will play an increasing role in getting our message to that audience. There are millions of small conservative blogs out there with a small but dedicated readership. We might not be more than fleas on the dogs tail, but when we bite in unison the dog feels the pinch.

Why not organize an advertising program to support small blogs and link it to the national GOP message? It could be easily done by giving participating conservative bloggers an ad that runs on their blog with the latest message. Bloggers would get paid based on page views that include the ad. Simple to do and you reach a multitude of small audiences through the direct personal medium of small blogs and their loyal readers.

Another thought would be to create a national blog highlighting and promoting the  postings from participating conservative blogs (those who are part of the advertising program). That would also tie those bloggers more closely to a coordinated national message. This could be easily done by a third party group with it's own financial resources.

Fund an Army of Activists!

Conservatives have a wealth of talent just waiting to be channeled and one that could benefit from some additional support for their efforts. As an example, I'm thinking of my friend Skye in Philadelphia (named Mike's America blogger of the year in 2007) who spontaneously developed a grass roots network in Pennsylvania to support conservative causes. On her own dime she travels in the state and to Washington, D.C. to organize and participate in a plethora of events. Would it be so impossible to set up a grant program to help defray the costs of activism such as  hers? I don't think so.

Activists could use help to defray the costs of attending training seminars, political meetings in state capitols and national events like CPAC. Providing them a modicum of support could pay big dividends later as they are folded into the coordinated organizational effort when 2012 approaches. The goal is to create a permanent grass roots political infrastructure on par with the Democrats.

Here's another idea: There's a waiting army of people like Skye who could help set up and conduct local phone banks in key states and districts where unregistered and infrequent voters are ripe for the plucking. In 2010 Democrats paid election workers $10 an hour to canvass neighborhoods. Would it be too much to offer our "volunteers" a similar subsidy for their time?

Some may say that it would be better to husband our limited financial resources and spend it all on one giant television ad blitz. That view is mainly put forward by media consultants with a direct financial stake in the outcome. Besides, at some point ad buys face a diminishing return as more Americans are tuning out that medium altogether. It's time for new thinking and new methods.

These are just a few of the ideas I had. There must be dozens, perhaps hundreds of other good ideas out there. It's past time where we stop talking about reaching out in new ways and act. Time is running out and the race for 2012 has already begun. We can't afford to make the same mistakes as we did in 2006, 2008 and even 2010.  Let's make sure we're not caught by surprise again.

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