Does GOP have a ground game? RGA’s get-out-the vote program

Yes, Republicans seem to have all the polls going their way, but do they have a ground game? Will Democrats turn them back for lack of one? Might we come to the end of the night without a clear decision by the voters?

I wondered last month what to make of the Republican National Committee’s decision to cancel its traditional door-to-door program. Among those I spoke with was a vocal (in private) critic of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who felt nonetheless that this had been the correct decision. Campaigns and state parties, he said, are far more capable of running get-out-the-vote operations. There was no reason for the RNC to pay for free vacations to Hawaii for Djou volunteers from Washington, D.C. — and that is the sort of thing they did in 2004.

Still, I wondered, won’t there be some kind of party disadvantage if the RNC drops the once-vaunted 72-hour program? It seemed very difficult to tell in the run-up to the election. But today, a new piece of the puzzle is emerging as the Republican Governors’ Association reveals its role in some of the most important states holding elections.

The group, historically low-profile, is known for raising a bit of money and spending it equally in several states, regardless of their competitiveness. It hasn’t ever been a significant force before. If Republicans do well today, though, it will be evidence that this has changed. Here is a memo detailing their get-out-the-vote efforts:

The RGA recognized a serious deficit in Republican GOTV operations, funding and programs in key states where turnout could make the difference between winning and losing the governor’s race as well as down ballot and other statewide contests. Consequently, the RGA invested in 18 states’ ground game, either directly or through independent expenditures, for GOTV programs concentrated on absentee, early voting, Election Day, and field operations….The numbers below only represent what we put into the ‘ground game’ or GOTV operations, something RGA does not traditionally have to do.

In 8 states, the RGA ran an independent GOTV program for absentee/early voting/GOTV/persuadable due to state law:

  • Ohio: 1.8 million pieces of mail (9 pieces); 200 million online ad impressions in the race’s last 3 days
  • Wisconsin: 2.9 million pieces of mail (8 pieces)
  • Illinois: 3.9 million pieces of mail (6 pieces)
  • Alaska: 215,000 pieces of mail (2 pieces)
  • Nevada: 1.3 million pieces of mail (7 pieces)
  • Massachusetts: 1.9 million pieces of mail (8 pieces)
  • Hawai’i: 276,000 pieces of mail (3 pieces)
  • Maryland: 500,000 pieces of mail (5 pieces)

In 10 states, the RGA made direct contributions to the state GOP to cover mail, phones, offices, staff, and chase programs:

  • Maine: $500,000
  • New Mexico: $400,000
  • Oregon: $500,000 ($250k to the state party, $250k to another source)
  • Florida: $1,800,000
  • California: $2,000,000
  • Michigan: $4,000,000
  • Georgia: $1,000,000
  • Pennsylvania: $2,000,000
  • Idaho: $500,000
  • Arizona: $500,000

Total 18-state GOTV investment: $18 million+

For strategic reasons the RGA has not publicly disclosed the extent of our GOTV operations until today. We were fine with the Democrats believing they would beat us on the ground. There was a need for us to address the lack of funding on the ground and I am proud the RGA – traditionally a media-heavy national committee – invested more than $18 million into GOTV operations while still pumping historic levels of resources into voter persuasion…

Here are a few key takeaways for me:

1. You can read between the lines a certain amount of frustration with the Republican National Committee.

2. RGA’s involvement could partially explain superior early-voting performances by the GOP in states like Nevada, where they did much better than usual. It might also explain why the GOP has had historic early and absentee performances in Florida and Pennsylvania, where they have blown out the Democrats by double-digit percentages.

3. Note how much money went into Michigan, which has a relatively uncompetitive governor’s race. In a separate memo, RGA discusses its desire to affect turnout in all races — not just governor’s races — and specifically to affect redistricting. Michigan’s state House is up for grabs today, and a GOP takeover would be huge for preserving any House majority that emerges today.

4. On the downside: You’ll notice that two important states don’t appear on this memo: New York (which features seven hot congressional races and a must-win state Senate) and Colorado (which includes the nation’s most expensive Senate race and three competitive House races). That’s the downside of fielding poor Republican candidates for governor.

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