Politics & Policy

A Winning Wisconsin Ground Game

The GOP plans to repeat it nationwide for the general election.

Scott Walker’s convincing win in Tuesday’s recall election owes a big debt to his intensive ground game — a structure that Republicans are hoping to replicate nationally in November.

“Now, less than four years after Obama won Wisconsin, Democrats lost in an election of their own making,” wrote RNC chairman Reince Priebus in a memo. “That’s because the GOP excelled at our ground game, now giving us a significant advantage for the presidential race.”

The conventional 2012 wisdom has long been that the Democrats will have a much better grassroots outreach than the GOP in November. But in the recall election, Republicans out-hustled the Democrats, opening more than two dozen offices and making millions of personal contacts with voters. They courted absentee-ballot voters and reached out to voters who were searching online for information about the election.

In Wisconsin, voters don’t register by party, making it trickier for the GOP to identify which voters to contact. But after the recent spurt of elections, including the presidential primary in April and the state-senate recall elections last summer, Wisconsin’s GOP has become expert at identifying who in the state is willing to pull the lever for a Republican candidate.

They put that knowledge to good use, aggressively contacting potential voters. “In 2010, to put this in perspective, we made about 2 million voter contacts,” says Wisconsin GOP communications director Ben Sparks. “For the recall, we made nearly 5 million voter contacts. So we more than doubled the metrics of our ground operation from the 2010 cycle, when Republicans made historical electoral gains throughout the state.”

The Wisconsin GOP also fully utilized the ability to reach voters online, buying ads on Facebook, Google, and YouTube. “Whenever voters are interested in the race, and they go online to find out more, we are able to identify and target them at that moment of interest when they are looking for information, and that has proven to be extremely effective,” Sparks explains.

Meanwhile, the RNC capitalized on the fact that many Republicans outside the Badger State were energized and motivated to help Walker win this election. Some Republicans from neighboring states came into Wisconsin and helped on the ground. Others stayed put in their home states but made calls to Wisconsin voters — a technique the RNC hopes to repeat in the fall, when energized voters from non-battleground states will be able call those who do live in swing states.

Republicans also focused on absentee-ballot voters, which the RNC will continue to do for the general election. “Each state has different absentee-ballot and early-vote restrictions, rules, etc., so I think it was good for us to understand how the process works in Wisconsin . . . and to do well with it,” says RNC press secretary Kristen Kukowski. “It gives us a little incentive and encouragement to continue doing that for the general election.”

Ultimately, the RNC is hoping that the ground game in Wisconsin will prove to be an accurate predictor of how both parties will do in the fall.

 “There’s an acknowledgement that on the other side, they didn’t perform as well as maybe they should have,” Kukowski comments. “There’s a lot of talk about how the other side’s operation is superior, and I think that we showed, especially in Wisconsin, that we are competitive and can be very, very successful.”

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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