While Republicans celebrate their historic gains in state legislatures, governors’ mansions and in the U.S. House of Representatives, we should also pause to ask why the GOP came up short in many races. After all, leading up to Tuesday the GOP had one of the largest enthusiasm gaps in recent memory, according to Gallup. If Republicans want to improve their game, the party needs to ask where — and why — it did not fully capitalize on voter enthusiasm and make greater gains this cycle.
The voters said the GOP was right on the issues. The GOP’s donors poured in the money. There were viable Republican candidates running in the bluest of districts. What was missing at the end was the national GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort (GOTV). From preparation to actual execution, the overall Republican ground game in 2010 can be considered, at best, as being less than satisfactory, especially given its past success. Or, as RedState’s Erick Erickson describes it, “[o]ur success last Tuesday is covering up some very fundamental and institutional problems that will hurt us in 2012.”
Getting voters to the polls in states like Colorado, Nevada and Washington is where the GOP really fell short this year, and that responsibility lies primarily with the Republican National Committee (RNC), which early on telegraphed that it would be cutting back on its GOTV program and later announced it wouldn’t be sending Capitol Hill staffers to the field this year. The Republican Governors Association (RGA) filled in some of the money gap, but lacks the infrastructure and manpower to offset the RNC’s pullback. It would be easy to blame the national organizations, but weak state parties in the aforementioned states should also shoulder a significant portion of the responsibility.
Aside from raising money, state parties have two primary responsibilities. The first is candidate recruitment (including vetting), and the second is ground game preparation. The cavalry is useless if it has no one to bolster and nothing to plug into. Let’s review where the state parties in Colorado, Nevada, and Washington came up short this cycle.
The Colorado Republican Party essentially handed over the keys to the governor’s mansion to the Democrats when it chose to not properly vet either of its gubernatorial candidates — horrific fallout ensued, and a third-party candidate (Tom Tancredo) entered the race. As a result, the RGA balked on supporting the Republican nominee and targeted its funds to winnable races elsewhere. In the Buck-Bennet Senate faceoff, the Colorado GOP did minimal ground game preparation, so when the cavalry did arrive (American Crossroads, etc.), they had little to plug into on the ground in terms of infrastructure. When it came to getting voters to the polls, the GOP and its allies spent millions on buggy whips while the Dems were taking to the street in turbo-charged Porsches. For those who want to say Ken Buck was a flawed candidate, why then did the Republicans only gain one state Senate seat in Colorado? It seems like the Colorado GOP has a lot to work on in the very near future.
With the eyes of the nation literally focused on the Silver State in 2010 (the Nevada Secretary of State website generated 34.6 million hits on Election Night), it is flat out embarrassing that the state GOP raised less than $165,000 this year, when its Democratic counterpart topped $2.1 million. This paltry figure is hardly enough money to staff the party office for an entire year, let alone prep the ground work for the biggest race in 2010. For those who want to argue that Sharron Angle made too many missteps on the campaign trail, why then did the state GOP, like its Colorado counterpart, only net one seat in the state Senate? We know Harry Reid is tough, but come on.
In Washington, the state GOP needs to come to terms with the fact that if it is going to mount a serious challenge in future elections for statewide office, it must make inroads in King County (where more than a fifth of the state’s active registered voters reside). It is not enough to win big on Republican-friendly turf in the eastern part of the state; the state GOP must focus on King County. Even if the RNC and the RGA had come knocking in Washington, we are not sure they would have had a lot to work with in the Seattle area.
2010 presented the GOP with a tremendous opportunity, but in the end, it still left a lot on the table. And don’t think for a second that this situation is limited to the state parties in Colorado, Nevada and Washington, because several other state Republican organizations are significantly underachieving. If the national GOP organization and its 50 state entities do not fix their “boots on the ground” infrastructure problems quickly, 2012 could be a “boot out the door,” with many Republicans on the receiving end.
Ford O’Connell is the Chairman of CivicForumPAC.