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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dem Debate On Funding GOTV Over Ads Intensifies

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on May 9, 2012.
While many believe that Senator Lugar’s defeat by a right-winger, who believes Paul Ryan’s budget is not conservative enough, gives Dems a good shot at a pick-up, yesterday’s elections were generally hailed by conservatives, especially in NC, where voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. Campbell Robertson of The New York Times got it right in his lede; the big story in NC was the record turnout.

As expected, North Carolinians voted in large numbers on Tuesday for an amendment that would ban same-sex marriages, partnerships and civil unions, becoming the 30th state in the country and the last in the South to include a prohibition on gay marriage in the state constitution…About half a million people voted early, a record for a primary in the state, and turnout on Tuesday was unusually high as well.

Further down in Robertson’s article, he notes, “Opponents had raised almost twice as much money as the amendment’s supporters and had a robust network of volunteers and get-out-the-vote workers.”
The ad war was also fierce in NC, and no doubt GOTV muscle is even more effective in non-presidential elections, in which overall turnout is normally smaller. There was also a lot of interest in the gubernatorial primary and some congressional races — Republicans hope to pick up as many as four congressional seats in NC alone. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the NC vote supports the argument that investing significant financial resources into GOTV is cost-effective, even for conservatives. And it’s clear that tea party GOTV in Indiana was instrumental in defeating Lugar.
Despite Democratic chest-beating about our superior ground game, one of the lessons of yesterday’s elections is that Republicans can leverage it to good effect also. Yes, Dems have a GOTV edge, particularly with experienced union campaign and turnout workers. But Republicans are not clueless about campaign warfare. They will also be investing heavily in GOTV in the months ahead.
Also in The Times, Jeff Zeleny reports on the intensifying debate among Dems regarding the strategic deployment of financial resources in ads or GOTV. As Zeleny reports, key Dems leaders are concerned that a $100 million plan by liberal donors to lift voter turnout could duplicate Obama campaign efforts already in place and undermine Dems air war:

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and other officials conveyed concern that Democratic candidates could be at a disadvantage if the contributors, many of whom had stayed on the sidelines of the 2012 campaign until now, decide not to spend money on television ads that push back against a torrent of attacks from conservative “super PACS” in the presidential election and Congressional races.
…”The idea that these progressive groups are essentially re-creating the wheel is perplexing and troubling,” said David Krone, the chief of staff to Mr. Reid. “Why go off and build a redundant grass-roots and get-out-the-vote organization that the Obama campaign is clearly invested in?”

Zeleny adds that many Dem strategists still believe that “television advertising was the most powerful way to win races. Democratic strategists have spent months trying to lure Mr. Soros and other donors into the fray of election spending…”Why would they rule out this tried-and-true medium?” Mr. Krone said on Tuesday. “I can guarantee the Republicans are covering all bases and will have a coordinated plan.”
The Obama campaign is reportedly in pretty good shape in terms of preparations for the ad campaign, with Jim Margolis as chief ad guru (profile of Margolis and his strategy here). But down ballot, many Dem candidates are in urgent need of funding for ads.
The debate will likely continue until all possible ads buys are made. No one really knows what is the optimum allocation of pro-Democratic funds into the air war and ground game. But Krone is right that it would be folly to assume that the GOP will come up short in funding either offensive.

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