Politics & Policy

How Jolly Won

Voter targeting brings a Republican slam dunk in the first House race of 2014.

Wednesday morning, as Democrats processed Alex Sink’s surprising defeat in the special congressional election for Florida’s 13th district, longtime Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted an intriguing excuse:

“For all the ‘swing district’ talk, Republican registration edge was +13 among those who turned out in FL-13. The Republican edge was just +5 in 2012.”

Indeed, a big part of winning an election, particularly an election that isn’t held on the first Tuesday in November, is bringing out your base. This is no obscure secret of campaign alchemy, and the campaign of the losing Democrat, Alex Sink, knew this and had the same objective. The difference is that Republican David Jolly’s campaign and its allies just did a better job of it.

Jolly’s campaign, assisted by the NRCC and a plethora of outside groups, aggressively targeted the district’s Republican-leaning voters, those rated a four or five on the five-point scale of likelihood to vote. The Democrats had fewer of those voters in the district to start with, and the GOP just outpaced them. Florida’s vote-by-mail rules made the effort a bit easier; out of the 183,634 votes cast, 119,797 people returned mail-in ballots and another 5,252 people voted early in person between March 1 and March 9.

As one example, the Faith & Freedom Coalition boasted Wednesday morning that its volunteers “knocked on 5,000 doors and made 10,000 personal phone calls using FFC’s proprietary VoterTrak software tools, which enable volunteers to contact voters using prequalifying criteria such as issue burdens, demographic information and data analytics. In addition, FFC distributed 25,000 voter guides in evangelical and Roman Catholic churches and mailed 22,000 pieces of candidate comparison mail. Using email, text messaging, and social media, FFC also distributed digital voter guides to targeted voters of faith in FL-13 that were viewed a total of 403,929 times.”

It helps to have an issue that fires up that base, of course. Sink pollster Geoff Garin declared on a conference call with reporters this morning that “the Affordable Care Act was a motivating factor for Republicans to turn out and vote and less so for Democrats.” He added that Sink “neutralized” the issue.

But Garin’s assessment is worse for Democrats than it may first appear, because voters don’t decide to go to the polls over “neutralized” issues, particularly in special, off-year, and midterm elections. Clearly a large chunk of the Republican base will be willing to walk over broken glass to vote against Obamacare in 2014.

In the minds of most Democrats, fully implemented Obamacare was supposed to be a political advantage by now, with millions of Americans enjoying subsidies and lower rates, insurance that they never had before, confidence that they wouldn’t lose their plans, free birth control, and so on. Last night’s results offered no evidence suggesting Democrats will turn out in droves to protect Obamacare from repeal-minded Republicans.

So even if other Democrats can “neutralize” the issue of Obamacare — a huge if — they still need to give their base a reason to vote for them.

The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo concluded that Sink’s campaign “did a great job of messaging to independents and crossover voters. It made sense. It’s a swing district. But the swing voters needed to come out more. And they didn’t. Sink surrogates talked about climate change and oil drilling and abortion.”

Garin’s post-election assessment also offered some convenient suggestions that his candidate was always a big underdog. He noted that “the samples for our polls always projected an electorate that would be 11 points more Republican than Democratic — a difficult margin for any candidate to overcome.”

If the district was always the steep uphill climb Garin describes, one wonders if Democrats knew that before they donated $2.5 million to the Sink campaign and before liberal groups spent $3.7 million attacking Jolly and boosting her.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.


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