CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following the defeat of Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee knew it had to change its ground game if it wanted to get Republicans elected.
More than five years later and with the White House and Congress under party control, the committee has its sights at turning more offices across the country red, including the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, using similar strategies that resulted in victorious elections the previous two cycles.
The committee has invested more than $200 million over the last four years into its data program. Created models allow campaigns to understand the issues receiving public interest, which state leaders can use to understand how to best target potential voters.
Justin Kemp, the regional data director for the mid-Atlantic region, said it all starts when a volunteer reaches out to a potential voter.
“We do phone calls and we ask a list of questions like approval of your senator, issues you may care most about, likelihood to turn out and vote,” he said during a stop in Charleston last week.
Topics are placed on a scale from zero to 100, representing how important a voter considers a matter. Kemp said after this information is compiled, the committee matches the responses with a list of actions that could best sway voters to Republicans.
“We use that information to then model these voters out based on their responses to then model out every single voter in that state or nationally depending on what the project looks like,” he added.
The committee has information on 260 million Americans, which Kemp said has been made publicly available by different companies and public offices, including the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
RNC Director of Turnout and Targeting Brian Parnitzke said during the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign utilized data to effectively reach out to voters on the issues, allowing them to defeat the Romney campaign. Republicans held onto control of the House of Representatives in the election but lost eight seats to Democrats. The GOP also lost two Senate seats that year.
“What we did is built a party-centric model, whereas the Obama campaign built an operation that worked for the Obama campaign,” he said. “The RNC built an operation that would work for anyone with an ‘R’ next to their name.”
Parnitzke pointed to the previous two election cycles as evidence of the program’s success, adding he believes this year’s midterm elections will also include Republican wins.
“In 2017, we’ve created more predictive models in West Virginia than we have in any other off-year election cycle,” he said. “We’re looking at approval for Sen. Manchin. We’re looking at likelihood to support the tax reform bill that just passed, and we’re seeing that roughly two-thirds of voters in West Virginia believe that tax reform will help people like them.”
Manchin voted against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December. He said the legislation was rushed and would hurt seniors because of possible future cuts to Medicaid.
“I do believe that this bill will provide temporary relief to some working-class families, and I will work with the president to make those permanent, so that hard-working Americans can plan for their future like the corporations and very wealthy individuals that are receiving extremely large and permanent tax cuts will do,” he said.
RNC Director of Political Strategic Matt Dailer said voter outreach is led by state directors, which is more effective in getting voter support compared to taking national directions.
“We offer them all of these tools and suggestions, and they go out there and make the plan for executing it and how we are going to talk to people,” he said.
Parnitzke said the committee’s use of data changes depending on the election, yet as more information is compiled, he believes Republicans can sell its message better than Democrats.
“We can tell you who was a Republican in 2014 and is no longer a Republican. On the other side, we can tell you who was a Democrat in 2014 and has given our party a look. And there’s a lot of them in West Virginia,” he said. “Frankly, they can’t catch up.”