Data-Driven Grassroots Campaigning May Have Won Mississippi for Thad Cochran

A few days back, A Loyal Reader sent over a story that should have gotten more attention than it did. It turns out that Thad Cochran didn’t just make good strategic decisions, like courting Democratic voters in a Republican primary; his campaign also made the smart tactical choice to rely on a data-driven field operation to persuade voters and get his supporters to the polls last week:

Cochran’s campaign dove in hard over the last three weeks — spending more than a half-million dollars on a data-driven get-out-the-vote effort.

In one critical Jackson-based county, Cochran backers who were caught napping during the June 3 GOP primary helped provide 7,000 additional votes — about the margin of the senator’s runoff victory Tuesday — through a frenzy of precision door knocks, carefully scripted phone calls and Facebook and text messages to remind supporters just how much they were needed at the polls.

A tight run-off is the perfect opportunity for field organizing to shine, since victory is all about getting your people to the polls. Field veterans I’ve spoken with say that this kind of grassroots organizing can be good for perhaps an extra two or three percent on election day, and that’s all that Cochran needed to beat Tea Party Republican challenger Chris McDaniel (who’s now sending emails asking for money to challenge the results). Of course, the right messages are as important as good delivery:

Cochran’s direct mail, traditional television and radio and Internet ads touting efforts to protect military and space facilities on the Gulf Coast helped net gains of about 1,100 votes in Harrison County (birthplace of NFL legend Brett Favre, who cut his own last-minute ad on Cochran’s behalf) and nearly 1,250 votes in Jackson County.

Will his victory convince other Republican candidates to invest more heavily in data-driven field organizing and online ads? Grassroots contact has been the Democrats’ forte the last couple of election cycles, but the RNC has big plans to change the party’s emphasis in the years to come. Of course, grassroots outreach requires grassroots-friendly messaging, and we’ll see how much their campaigns’ talking will help their party’s walking — block-walking, that is.

Tech can also backfire, of course, as Cochran’s team found out today, when Twitter-organized McDaniel supporters basically took over one of his conference calls (via PoliticalWire, which descended fast into chaos and farce (“wildly entertaining but wholly unprofessional” is not how you want your press conference call to be described, I’m guessing). Why he didn’t vet the callers, or simply have the ability to simply shut the call off, I can’t fathom. Don’t let this happen to you, kids! Unlike his Cochran’s grassroots targeting, it doesn’t exactly advance the narrative of campaign competence.

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