Dear Consultants: In Close Elections, GOTV Matters

In 46 states (excluding AK, MS, NJ, and RI), Mitt Romney either expanded the percentage victory margin or shrunk the percentage loss margin compared to McCain in 2008.  In only 4 states did Romney win by a smaller percentage or lose by a higher percentage than McCain did in 2008.

Great news, right? Not so fast.

Judging by the current vote totals, Romney’s nationwide operation fell far short of McCain’s in 2008.  In fact, Romney currently trails McCain by around 2 million votes.  2 million!  That number is mind-boggling.  How did the Republican candidate facing the worst president in modern history manage to get 2 million fewer votes than in 2008? Granted, that number may narrow a bit as more votes are counted, but it’s astonishing that Romney’s votes are even in the neighborhood of McCain’s.


The answer is pretty simple: the Republican party establishment’s micro-targeting of voters, from surveying voters to a get-out-the-vote, or GOTV, operation — if you can even call it an operation — was a joke.  Take Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, for example.  Had Romney won those states, he would be celebrating victory today.  The media would have you believe that he was trounced there.  That’s not the case.


Romney lost all four states — and the presidency — by less than 400,000 votes.  He lost Colorado by 111,000, Florida by 47,000, Ohio by 100,000, and Virginia by 108,000.  That’s it. Romney was locked out of the White House by about 366,000 votes.


Now imagine an alternate universe in which the Republican party’s consultants, power brokers, and money men invested in legitimate micro-targeting and GOTV efforts with technology that works (like Gravity. . . not Orca). Instead, millions were spent on endless ads that not only failed to move the needle in the age of TiVo and DVR but will keep the lights on for many TV stations that are less than friendly to the conservative movement.


According to news reports, American Crossroads — by far the best-funded force outside the RNC and the congressional committees — and its affiliates raked in $300 million during the 2012 election cycle.  Imagine if a fraction of that money had been spent on voter identification and GOTV efforts in the states mentioned above. It’s not like it was a secret as to where this election was going to be won or lost. It was a universe of no more than 9 states. Think about just $2M per state invested into GOTV. That’s $18M well spent. Instead, that money now pads the bank accounts of various individuals who, if not already millionaires before this cycle started, certainly are now.


Let’s be honest. Consultants can’t get rich off of voter identification and GOTV efforts.  There are no clients to bilk in GOTV.  There’s just no real money in recruiting volunteers, surveying voters and knocking on doors. It’s hard work.


But there are votes.


The incestuous inside baseball game played by Republican consultants, where television ads and mailers allegedly win campaigns (and just happen to fatten the wallets of media consultants and direct mail firms), was exposed last night for the fraud that it is.


If the Republican Party, powered by the conservative movement, wants to win in the future, it’s going to have to change the way it does politics. It’s going to have to build a better machine from the ground up.


Sexy? No. Effective, yes.


This post was co-written with Sean Davis, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006.


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