The following is a guest post from Rory McShane, former Chairman of the Maryland Teenage Republicans, who worked as a political consultant in Maryland and in many other states. His thoughts are his own.
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Lessons Learned from Swing States
Rory McShane, Partner
Bull Dog Strategies , LLC
In the 2010 cycle I worked in Maryland on a handful of low level races including Pat McDonough, Brian Meshkin, Tony Campbell and Marty Pusey. While we were fortune enough to win most of those races, I’m the first to say I wish I knew then what I know now. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several swing states including Virginia, where I worked on a State Senate race in 2011. During the first few months of 2012 I worked on a congressional race in Virginia and after winning our primary by 15 points I was hired by the Romney campaign in Colorado where I also worked on several legislative races. For the past two years, I have had the amazing opportunity to work in swing states and learn from the immense political talent and the skilled operation set up in both of those states.
This past election night, many, including myself were shocked and disappointed to see the beating Republicans took across the country and nowhere was that more evident than in my home state of Maryland, where Republicans lost seven of eight congressional seats up for election, the United States Senate seat, and every ballot measure endorsed by the Maryland Republican Party.
While I think it will be a long time before we can call Maryland a red state, if we Marylanders took lessons from other states with better operations in place than we could at least make the state competitive.
Maryland has come miles and miles in this regard from where we were in 2009, but we still have miles to go. Most well run state Republican parties operate at a budget close to $750,000 per year (not including Victory Funds transferred from the RNC.)
Most effective states realize that the Chairman’s most important responsibility is to fundraise for the party operation, which should be managed by professional political operatives. The State Party Chairman’s job is not to set policy, platforms or take sides in primary races. A Chairman’s personal political beliefs are relatively irrelevant in the grand scheme of winning elections.
For whatever reason, most campaigns I’ve followed in Maryland do not practice fundraising with the discipline necessary to win. Any politico will tell you that there is no magic bullet when it comes to campaign fundraising – money bombs, email blasts, and chicken dinners are all well and good, but any candidate worth their salt should make at least 3 hours of fundraising calls every day.
The metrics of campaigning is changing. Our country is becoming increasingly polarized. Persuading voters is no longer the lion share of running a campaign. In most districts only a few thousand voters are actually persuadable. Every campaign should put together a universe of likely undecided voters, this is known as a swing universe, and then set about identifying these voters. A good campaign will be able to identify 70% of its swing universe. The first 40% of a campaign should be spent on identifying a candidate’s supporters and those very few undecided voters. The next 20% of a campaign, should be aimed at persuading voters, and the final 40% of a campaign should be spent turning your base and identified supporters. The old model of 72 Hour GOTV is being discarded in most industry circles and being replaced with 720 Hour GOTV.
In states like Virginia, specifically Fairfax County, which understands the necessity of voter identification the party works with volunteers to identify voters year-round so that after a primary election the party can hand the winning candidate a list of voters likely to be supportive and list of voters likely to be undecided.
Targeted Voter Contact
I’ve never a state waste so many volunteer man hours as Maryland. Prior to the Romney campaign shipping me out to Colorado, they sent me to Field Operations School at the Republican National Committee. On the first day, Political Education Director Kiley Smith said something that I’d been waiting to hear for a long time.
“Sign waving has no place in modern campaigns”
A campaign has limited dollars and even more limited volunteer man hours. A campaign should never waste their time or their volunteer’s time by talking to anyone other than targeted voters in the aforementioned swing universe.
I hope to see Maryland take lessons from swing states with successful campaign machines. I believe 2014 will be a good cycle for Republicans and if we run disciplined campaigns we should by all accounts be able to pick up a half dozen seats in the State House and several in the State Senate.
We need to realize that campaigns are grueling endeavors that require discipline and hard work. Sign waving, speaking to Republican clubs and blogging may be a lot of fun for a candidate and their team – but those things don’t win elections.
In 2011 the Chairman of a county party in Virginia found a blog entry written by a candidate in a target seat. The Chairman created a profile using his real name, and commented “Stop Blogging, get off your ass and knock doors.” That is why Republicans are a force to be reckoned with in that Northern Virginia county, whose demographics mirror that of Montgomery County.