GOP Builds National Campaign Network From Its Grass Roots

Paul Singer
USA Today

The Republican Party over the next few weeks will open a series of local campaign offices in a half-dozen key swing states to help mobilize GOP voters this fall and catch up with President Obama’s head start in campaign organization.

Over the next two weeks, these “victory offices” opened jointly by the Republican National Committee and state GOP committees will develop and share voter contact information, grass-roots organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts with state party committees. By summer, the network will be at the service of the party’s nominee, presumably former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The new offices being established by mid-May in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin join those opened by the Republican National Committee in March and April in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, Michigan and Colorado.

The plan, RNC Political Director Rick Wiley said, is create the network to get Republicans to the polls in the 12 battleground states that will determine who wins in November. The offices, he said, are “the ground game run by the RNC in conjunction with the states.”

That ground game will ultimately become part of the Romney campaign.

Federal campaign law requires that the state party, national party and presidential campaign pay for some services themselves and not share money.

But as a practical matter, “There is not going to be an inch of daylight between us and the RNC,” said Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call. And once the Romney campaign ramps up, “there will not be an inch of daylight between us and the campaign either.”

Much of the work has already been taking place, said Annaliese Wiederspahn, spokeswoman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. There, the state party has already been on the ground contacting voters for months, focusing particularly on state House races, where Republicans are only three seats shy of a majority.

“We have spent so much time, district by district, learning what’s going on in these districts” that the state party can provide the national party a tremendous road map of what issues resonate in the state, she said. The big benefit the state party receives from the partnership is “having them on the ground and helping us to build infrastructure … and help us ramp up and scale up quickly,” she said.

Republicans and Democrats agree that the Obama campaign has a head start in setting up state offices for the presidential campaign. “We did that slow build while they were in primaries,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan.

The RNC wanted to open offices in the 12 battleground states by May, even without an official nominee, Wiley said. That’s because the Obama campaign has been “building this for a year. They have had an opportunity to get out ahead of us.”

Obama’s campaign claims to be a 50-state operation, and has offices in states such as Wyoming and Nebraska that the president has little chance of winning in November. Even if Obama won’t carry those states, Hogan said, volunteers there “can just as well make phone calls into a battleground state.”

Not so with the RNC, Wiley said. It won’t open “victory offices” in states such as Alabama and Mississippi that are expected to vote Republican. “We don’t have to,” he said.

But in states such as California, New York and Illinois, “there will be places where the RNC spends money to ensure or maintain our House majority,” Wiley said. There will be “some victory programs in those congressional districts as well,” even where there is not a statewide effort.

Republicans generally believe that Democrats will need a bigger ground game effort because they face an “enthusiasm gap” — young voters, minorities and other parts of the giant coalition that elected Obama in 2008 are simply less excited about him and less motivated to get to the polls than they were four years ago.

“We’re fortunate in the sense that there is a great deal of Republican enthusiasm to make Obama a one-term president, so the task is to harness that excitement and turn it into a network that gets voters to the polls,” said New Hampshire GOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald.

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