June 24, 2022
October 8, 2012
Key to Victory? Who Has Best Ground Game
Wall Street Journal by Gerald F. Seib “One man who has set out to make sure that isn’t the case is Ralph Reed, a veteran GOP leader in the evangelical movement and founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an organization that mobilizes religious voters. In a recent conversation, Mr. Reed walked through the turnout math and how his organization is trying to affect it.”
Political campaigns contain many sexy components: multimillion-dollar ad buys, national debates, convention speeches. But this year’s election may well hinge on a decidedly unsexy factor: voter turnout machinery. With exactly four weeks to go before Election Day, the presidential race is close and seems destined to remain so. Any thoughts that President Barack Obama would run away with it likely were put to rest by Republican Mitt Romney’s strong performance in last week’s debate. And in a close race, what matters most in the end game isn’t who airs a few more ads or gives a slightly better speech. What matters most is which side can get its supporters to actually show up at the polls. For the Obama campaign that means, above all, young voters and Hispanics. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Obama is preferred by a 57%-to-35% margin among voters aged 18 to 34, and an even more stunning 70%-to-20% margin among Hispanics. Those are big advantages—among two groups that don’t always turn out in big numbers. For the Romney campaign, the parallel force may well be evangelical voters. Three-quarters of them say they support Mr. Romney, but evangelicals didn’t show great enthusiasm on Election Day four years ago for Republican nominee John McCain. Consider those challenges in turn. Young voters played a big role in driving Mr. Obama to victory in some key states in 2008, but they don’t seem as fired up this year. Voters under the age of 30 made up 18% of the electorate four years ago, but a recent Pew Research Center study found that the share of them who say they are following campaign news very closely is roughly half of what it was at this point four years ago. Similarly, Hispanics, who made up 9% of the 2008 electorate, traditionally turn out in smaller numbers than their potential power suggests, and recent data suggest that’s still a likely outcome. The Obama campaign knows full well, of course, that it needs to amp up these voting blocs, so it is trying to catch up with its 2008 standard. It will get some help from its labor allies, and on its own it set in place months ago a social-media strategy to reconnect with young voters, as well as a separate outreach operation for Hispanics. Obama headquarters in Chicago is a sea of 20-something workers trying to reach such voters, but in recent weeks many of them have been dispatched to swing states to get supporters registered and engaged. Now, state statistics show, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in five of the six battleground states that register voters by party. In most of those states, the Democratic registration margins still aren’t as large as they were in 2008, but they are widening. Crucially, the Obama campaign says voters under 30 make up more than half of new registrants. For Republicans, a similarly important turnout target is the evangelical vote. Evangelicals have become a core element of the Republican base, but for months some Republicans have feared they would be underenthused by the candidacy of Mr. Romney because of suspicions about his Mormon religion. One man who has set out to make sure that isn’t the case is Ralph Reed, a veteran GOP leader in the evangelical movement and founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an organization that mobilizes religious voters. In a recent conversation, Mr. Reed walked through the turnout math and how his organization is trying to affect it. White evangelicals and born-again Christians made up roughly a quarter of all voters in 2008. Yet Mr. Reed estimates that perhaps 17 million evangelicals didn’t vote or weren’t registered, including roughly a million who voted for George W. Bush in 2004. That big bloc includes heavy representation in such swing states as Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Florida. So Mr. Reed’s organization is setting out to get them to the polls; it will, he said, spend some $12 million to drive turnout. Mr. Reed’s group has files with cellphone, email or other contact information on 17.3 million potential voters in 15 key states. All those voters will be contacted, many of them multiple times. Two million will get personal visits from volunteers. The message: Mr. Romney shares evangelicals’ values on matters such as gay marriage, abortion and religious freedom. The choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mr. Romney’s running mate has made the task of energizing evangelicals easier, Mr. Reed said. Though a Roman Catholic rather than a Protestant evangelical, Mr. Ryan is popular among evangelicals for his firm opposition to abortion rights. It may seem odd that a ticket made up of a Mormon and a Catholic could generate a big evangelical turnout, but Mr. Reed insists that is exactly what will happen. “It will be ironic,” he says, “if the first ticket in history without a Protestant got the biggest share of the evangelical vote in history.” Ultimately, though, the outcome likely hangs on precisely such ironies and imponderables of voter turnout.
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