GOP 'Ground Game' Is Getting out Vote; Tactic Worked Well in 2002 Elections

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The toughest pill for Republicans to swallow from the 1998 and 2000 elections was why final opinion polls promised victory in so many key races that Republicans ended up losing.

In 2002, however, Republicans turned the tables by pulling out victories in several tight races, thanks to their new 72-hour task force. The concept, headed by the Republican National Committee at the urging of President Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, emphasized registering and turning out Republican voters.

"What that means is there are available, and always have been available, enormous numbers of people who would vote for Republicans and conservative candidates if an effort was made to identify them, get them ready to vote and turn them out on Election Day," said Morton Blackwell, Republican National Committee member from Virginia, who has long called for an emphasis on the "ground game" of voter turnout.

"In 2000 it was the Democrat candidates who scored 3 percent or 4 percent higher when votes were counted, but it was very obvious election night [2002] it was Republican candidates who were scoring 3 or 4 points or higher," he said.

Mr. Blackwell is writing a report to fellow committee members detailing successes of the turnout effort in the November midterm election, but he said he's heard from party officials and strategists that the new approach is "here to stay."

At the RNC, officials are still calculating the effects of their turnout operation, but spokesman Kevin Sheridan said they consider the program to have been a winner.

"The results really speak for themselves. We did turn out our voters in important races, and it showed," he said. "It's probable that Republicans have changed forever the way they get out the vote."

After the 2000 elections, Mr. Blackwell and other critics argued that media strategists had distorted the way Republicans ran campaigns. Those strategists make money off commissions earned by buying ad time and producing campaign commercials, and critics said campaigns became too dependent on "air war" campaigns and lost focus on actually getting voters to the polls.

To break that mold, Mr. Blackwell said the three national political committees - the RNC and the House and Senate campaign committees - pressured state organizations to construct and carry out a turnout plan. …