Get on TV vs. GOTV

With tonight’s victory for Scott Walker, I would be loathe to forget something I learned in my 2004 job as a field operative on the Bush/Cheney campaign.

During my training seminar, I was told that the old GOP model of “Get on TV” vs. the Democratic model of “Get Out the Vote” was changing. Republicans had invested heavily in technological infrastructure, micro targeting, and in related technologies. The 2004 re-election for President Bush was going to be the big debut, 2002 was a test run.

Of course, those investments yielded good results. But good GOTV means nothing if your narrative is lacking, as evidenced by the 2006 and 2008 elections.

National Review writer Christian Schneider notes in his write up on “Why Walker Won” that:

Although the union protests in early 2011 were a spectacular visual event, they ended up not making any difference in the final vote, other than perhaps to drive more Republicans to the polls. Labor leaders clearly thought that simply being on the news every night showed union strength; this calculation proved wrong.

Have the two parties reversed roles? Are Republicans focusing on the ground game that Democrats dominated for so long, and Democrats focusing on the media narrative that the GOP has executed so well?

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the GOP has abandoned playing the narrative game, nor would it be fair to say that the Democrats and OFA have lackluster GOTV operations. For a short while, the GOP really advanced the digital use of voter records and other public data with “VoterVault.” The Democrats responded with Demzilla. These days, it’s hard to know who is ahead.

In Wisconsin, the GOP ran a great ground game on a message good enough to win comfortably. Republicans should not misinterpret this.

I’ve been so far removed from campaigns that I don’t know much about the capabilities of either party these days. I assume they’ve gotten far creepier than 2004, and what I’ve read about the OFA operation suggests as much.

But, Schneider is right to suggest that getting coverage of protests doesn’t equate to results at the polls. In fact, it can often have the opposite effect. His write up is worth reading.

A few other factors played a role, as Schneider notes, i.e:

  • Barrett was a weak candidate the first time, and was even weaker the second time.
  • Walker had the time to allow the reforms to work, and that gave him time to demonstrate they were working.
  • Recalls are rare, but normally they’re for legitimate reasons. This recall was administered by a bunch of people with sour grapes.
  • The recall was about unions and collective bargaining, but that was conspicuously absent from the actual recall debate.
  • Unions getting a better deal than federal employees doesn’t sit well with hardworking Wisconsinites. This might explain the absence of collective bargaining in the recall race.

A non-partisan friend of mine from the heartland messaged me today and said that (I’m paraphrasing) he is not of Scott Walker’s political views, he thinks the recall was ill advised and silly, mostly because Walker didn’t do anything criminal or that demonstrated willful malfeasance.

The Coalition for American Values Committee ran a powerful commercial titled “The Wisconsin Way.” The ad features a bunch of Wisconsinites, most of whom aren’t big supporters of Gov. Walker saying, in essence, they think the recall is a bunch of crap.

Another friend of mine from college, a journalist, said this: “Maybe people should just show up to vote on election day?” That’s one of the weird things about recalls, especially in Wisconsin, is that they don’t have to demonstrate that really egregious things happened to justify them.

An old political adage is: “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” In Wisconsin, you can not only complain if you don’t vote, you can petition to recall elected officials who were seated in an election you didn’t even vote in. This could set a bad precedent.

According to Wisconsin law for recalls:

A qualified elector is a United States citizen, 18 years of age or older, who has resided in the district or jurisdiction for at least 10 days.

I think many voters disliked the recall if only for the reason that, regardless of Walker’s actions, removing him would set a precedent that would make their state similar to a banana republic or one run by a junta. This isn’t to say Walker kept his job because the recall was a sham, but it certainly didn’t hurt his chances.

I don’t buy the rationale that the exit polls will ensure President Obama wins the state in the fall, since 2000 and 2004 showed us how fallible exit polls are. They’re a.) not as reliable as elections, and, b.) merely represent a snapshot of a small sample of voters at a certain point in time. By that same token, I don’t buy into the rationale that Wisconsin is a lock for Romney in the fall. I think it’s safe to say that Wisconsin will be a tossup, at least at this point in time.

President Obama’s re-election chances will depend largely on jobs and the economy. Even if Gov. Walker’s policies result in (or at least are tangentially tied to) job growth there, voters will still look at the economy as a whole.

I don’t think voters in a state with a governor, much less one who has won two elections in four years, who has led a state to economic growth will eschew those reforms and support an incumbent President en masse with policies diametrically opposed to their governor’s. It’s not that clear cut and simple. It’s far messier, so don’t believe any over simplifications you hear on either side. The electorate is befuddling and fickle.

Tonight was a win for politicians willing to take big chances to reform government, and it was a loss for public unions. Walker shouldn’t “spike the football” so to speak, but he should let his reforms do the talking. My guess is that he’ll do precisely that.

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