Republican Party goes door-to-door to gauge standing for 2016 election
Odds are high that during October, someone will come door-knocking on a weekend to ask whether you plan to vote in November’s election.
It’s part of the national Republican Party’s “month of action” in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, where the party will test for holes in its new year-round ground game. Leaders want to determine strengths and weaknesses among volunteers in the field before the 2016 presidential election.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus laid out the plan in July during a leadership conference in Philadelphia. The party will activate neighborhood “team leaders” who encourage people to get neighbors to host house parties, organize door-knocking efforts and hold debate-watching parties.
“And ultimately, to battle-test our ‘get out the vote’ efforts for next year,” Priebus said.
Several volunteers with the Westmoreland County Republican Committee organized a Saturday outreach walk in Greensburg. Republicans made a stunning courthouse sweep in the county in 2011, winning a majority on the three-person Board of Commissioners for the first time in 60 years and all five row offices. Those seats — commissioners, sheriff, treasurer, controller, recorder of deeds and register of wills — are up for election in November.
Marcel Groen, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said its members are not coordinating with the national party for a big voter contact effort this fall.
But, he said, “In some areas, we probably will, and we always try to make sure that we have a robust (get-out-the-vote) effort.”
This election is important for Democrats, Groen said, because of an unprecedented three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“It is clear that we need to win the majority because those seats are what control who sits on the committee to make the final choice on redistricting in 2020,” he said.
“If the Republicans continue to hold that majority, that will continue to impact what the down-ballot seats … look like.”
In 2014, the state Senate expanded its Republican majority to 30 of the 50 members. House Republicans boosted their ranks to 119 members, a 35-person advantage over Democrats and the largest House majority since 1957.
Priebus said the GOP will determine how the national staff manages volunteers and how well those volunteers use the “walk apps” to gauge voters.
Most importantly, he said, this election could show how his team interacts with each other — and handles data.
Volunteers are circulating in all 67 counties until the Nov. 3 election.
The roughly 200 people in Pennsylvania are among more than 10,000 combined in Ohio, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. In addition to the presidency, the GOP aim is to hold the majority in the Senate.
“This will be our first major test of GOP field operation taking place well before we have a nominee — earlier than ever before,” Priebus said.
The emphasis is to build capacity and test tactic, message, absentee balloting and voter registration. The party is reaching out to minority voters, too, he said.
“This election cycle is our first major test, and part of the continuation of building a permanent ground game that can be used in every election,” Priebus said.
This marks the third year Republicans have tried to catch up to the well-oiled Democratic machine that sidelined Republicans in the 2006 election, then clobbered them in data usage and turnout in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
In a 2013 report, Priebus discussed how the GOP ground game was outplayed and outperformed by Democrats whose get-out-the-vote strategy was more advanced. The party began to beef up its technological and social media capabilities.
Priebus’ plan of action is a major departure for the national party, which used to supply cash and parachute in with help on Election Day but did not engage with voters throughout the year. Its new digital apparatus can track voter turnout and behavior, he said.
“We’ll know this Election Day how it all works, so we can work out the kinks before we hand it off to the Republican presidential nominee that next July in Cleveland,” Priebus said.
The Cook Political Report upgraded Republicans’ chances in Pennsylvania in August, shifting the state from “Leans Democratic” to “Toss-up” in its latest 2016 Electoral Scorecard. Democrats have dominated presidential politics in the state since 1992, winning every presidential race since Bill Clinton’s first run. Their July convention is in Philadelphia.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at [email protected].