Will It Work? Republicans’ New Investment in Digital Technology & Grassroots Field Organizing

Last October we talked about the Republican National Committee’s plan to build its grassroots/field and digital infrastructure, and according to The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, it’s beginning to work:

At Thursday’s RNC meeting, delegates got closed-door briefings on all the ways the GOP has upped its game in the past year. The RNC has been raising money at a record clip, enabling Chairman Reince Priebus to fulfill his goal of staffing an unprecedented national political operation. There are more than 160 field staffers living and organizing in 26 states, and they’ll be in all 50 by the end of the year. There are Hispanic outreach staffers in Colorado, Asian-American staffers in California, African-American organizers in Detroit, a youth director in Pennsylvania. The chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, Peter Goldberg, marveled to me that there are now full-time-staffed RNC field offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, with more on the way. “That’s never existed before,” he said.

Republicans are also investing tens of millions of dollars in their data, digital, and Internet operations, opening an office in Silicon Valley and hiring numerous tech-savvy staffers.

Of course, some individual labor unions have more field staff than the entire RNC now does, but it’s a smart change for them to be making. I said earlier:

Republicans are likely to get more bang for their bucks by building those long-term relationships with voters that Democrats have been learning to emphasize over the past decade. And as voters get hit with more and more advertising/media messages every day and through every conceivable medium, personal contact is one of the few things that can begin to break through the information clutter.

Of course, you still need the right candidates and the right messages, but this new grassroots emphasis is a promising change from the brain-dead TV-buying-by-the-numbers strategy we saw from Crossroads GPS, the Romney campaign and so many other groups on the Right in 2012.

The proof will be in the pudding! I.e., will this new field operation actually play a significant role in the party’s work in 2014 and 2016? Or will it be like the 2012 Romney campaign’s notorious “Orca” project, which failed in action even as its limited scope revealed how little his staff understood about what the Democrats were really doing.

One challenge: you can’t just plug field and digital operations onto a campaign run under the rules of broadcast-era campaigns and expect success. To work well, they have to be integral to your political outreach, but more than that, they require a mental shift — you really have to believe in people-powered politics to take full advantage of their strengths. Let’s see if the Republicans have learned the real lessons, or if they’re just mimicking Democratic advances they see as through a glass, darkly.


Written by
Colin Delany
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