Learning from Loss: summing up defeat

So last time around a discussion of the problems associated with the Romney campaign’s GOTV highlighted some of the array of problems that held the candidate back. In an election that came down to four swing states – Virginia, Florida, Colorado, and Ohio – all swinging to President Obama by a combined 380,000 votes out of roughly 10 million votes cast, it’s easy to pin the blame in a narrow loss on not knocking on enough doors, on relying too much on technology and phone calls that everyone ignores.

But was this decisive. What else contributed to Romney’s defeat and Obama’s victory?

My thoughts as to the factors here are threefold:

  • The volume of unanswered negative campaigning, particularly in the doldrums;
  • The GOTV effort; and
  • The candidate himself.
  • Silence in the Doldrums
    In discussing what Mitt Romney needed to do in the Presidential debates, this blog discussed the fact that the debates represented an end to “the doldrums”, a period running from the day Mitt Romney’s nomination was assured, roughly in April, until the first debate in October, with a brief interruption for the RNC. In this time, with Romney running on fumes due to campaign rules while hoarding cash for the General Election, a continual message was put forth by OfA, it’s surrogates, and a pliant media:

    Mitt Romney is not one of you.

    Mitt Romney is too rich to understand your daily concerns.

    Mitt Romney will outsource your very existence to Asia.

    Mitt Romney will place an iron curtain between you and your birth control, with no Checkpoint Charlie.

    These messages were supported, through not with Mitt’s support, by the controversy around Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s words. These and other minutiae were used to paint Republicans as a whole as out of touch with portions of the electorate.
    And it worked. Looking at exit polling data, these actions in the doldrums were effective. In spite of an inferior economy, 69 percent of voters had made up their mind prior to the first debate, with those favoring the President 53-46. That’s a virtually insurmountable lead in retrospect. While the first debate (in early October, reflective of decisions in September in the exit polls) reversed this trend, it was for a thin slice of the electorate. The subsequent debates split evenly, while the second doldrums (after the last debate) again led to more out-of-touch discussion (Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments mirroring Todd Akin’s, along with a steady diet of Big Bird, binders full of women, and bayonets.
    While these were easily ignored by those of us used to the media’s noise machine, the average voter, especially those limited to the legacy media, got an endless barrage of the message above. I watch so little live TV these days that commercials are easily skipped on the DVR; not all are able to avoid the echo chambers of the left.

    The last post discussed most of the issues here sufficiently. An exchange in the comments with the redoubtable Political Fireball helped me come up with a clarifying point: In an era where we can walk around with open access to data telling us where we are, it shouldn’t be hard to reconcile voter lists that show a street address as a city park (as Fireball noted) or a Post Office or an address which is less likely to fit a voter profile (like a restaurant). Similarly, the entities that use that same technology commercially to make commerce move (FedEx, UPS) serve as good exemplars for the way to use technology positively to support GOTV efforts. Knock Lists based on delivery routes aren’t that complicated.


    The Candidate
    The primary season showed both the weakness and the strength of Mitt Romney as a candidate. The weaknesses weren’t going away as the result of winning the primary season. Too many conservative leaning voters, or voters seeking a true conservative – forsaking victory for political purity, or presuming that there was no difference between the candidates – stayed home on Election Day. That’s a function of both of the prior metrics, but also of Mitt Romney the Candidate. and that’s been baked into the pie, so to speak, at least since 2008.

    Where to from here?
    First, I’m going to take a short break from politics. A really short one, to refresh my senses.

    Second, I’m going to get more active in politics when I do get back in it. I’ll look for a role locally, helping direct the future of the Party, and of the conservative movement. There are far too many lessons learned to have them lost to time.

    I suggest the same for all of you.


    Rule 5 Friday: Across the Pond

    UPDATE: A hearty welcome to newcomers, via Wombat Socho’s Rule 5 post over at The Other McCain, and, as always, thanks to Wombat and Stacy for the linkage. Feel free to look around for stories and other fine Rule 5 Friday ladies.

    A welcome Friday to you all. Time for Rule 5 Friday. Was trying to find a suitable candidate this week through the simplest means: Googling “Who’s hot”. I warn you: don’t do it. In the wake of this week’s election, among the first images to appear was that of Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren.


    Anyway, this weeks Rule 5 Friday is a young lady from the UK by the name of Alice Goodwin:20121109-001356.jpg
    More photos of Alice after the break (including some NSFW).

    Continue reading

    Learning from Loss: GOTV

    Election night’s results were a microcosm of the last year in several ways. Back
    In the Iowa Caucuses – you remember those, oh so many months ago – Mitt Romney came in with history, with money, with inevitability. And inevitability was derailed by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

    Santorum won by more or less living in Iowa. By going door-to-door, by retail politicking of the variety most loved by Iowans. Thing is, it was little different than what Santorum had done in his initial run for Congress against Doug Walgren. In that campaign, Santorum pretty much knocked on every door in the district. Knocking on doors gets voters up and interested. It’s not that Mitt Romney’s machine for getting out the vote – GOTV in wonk parlance – wasn’t itself formidable. Mitt’s GOTV architecture had been set in stone in Iowa four years earlier. Still, retail politics trumps phone calls every day of the week – and most of all on Election Day.

    Today, John Edkhal over at Ace’s expanded on a discussion of the Romney campaign’s solution for getting out the vote: a massive software tracking system code-named ORCA. And between his perspective (as someone who was to be a field user at a polling station, and as a software developer), combined with comments to the article, one thing is clear: ORCA did not work. Because while it worked for some, seamlessly, for others it was a nightmare that failed to account for everything from the use environment (the interiors of libraries and school buildings often have poor cellular reception), documentation (being emailed late, if at all, with grossly disqualifying errors leading to some watchers being evicted), and other problems.

    While I applied to participate, I never received follow-up communications. Combined with a hectic work schedule, I played it safe and did what I could at the downstream end.

    I did my time over the last week in call centers supporting Mitt Romney, and what I heard on the phone confirmed that the lessons of Iowa weren’t necessarily applied as they should have, or could have been. Call center life is fairly straightforward: first, you dial a phone (or rather, it is dialed for you with a button push). Then you wait. About 70 percent of the time, a call ends at an answering machine. In this case you press a couple of buttons to leave a message, then complete a survey saying “left a message” and repeat; 15 percent of the time there would be a dead line or someone would pick up and hang up. The other 15 percent of the time you’d get a live human being, and talk with them – on election day, it was to ask if they’d voted. Previously, it was when they planned to vote.

    Most of that 15 percent had voted. The problem is, most had voted absentee or in early voting five to seven days earlier. Only a handful were going to the polls later that day or had gone earlier in the day.

    And was their any upstream connection to ORCA? Most of the numbers dialed for me were local, but there was the occasional out-of-state area code. So, maybe something was making its way out of what was happening elsewhere. One number I called was to a person whose polls had just closed. I got an earful for that. So perhaps there was – though between John Edkall’s piece and Joel Pollak’s expansion at Breitbart, it’s hard to tell for sure.

    Here lies the problem of the Romney GOTV machine: phone banks are an effective way to get in people’s ears. But not in their eyes, in front of their faces. And in an era of Billion-dollar campaigns, a tiered approach that increases and starts with direct interaction seems a no-brainer. Read this piece over at the Boston Globe to see how Mumbles Menino got the vote out – though at a lower rate than the rest of the state, it was still effective, because some of the precincts in Ward 14 went 98-0.4 for Obama. A brief excerpt:

    The team included political operatives from the Service ­Employees International Union, which also provided a battalion of volunteers. They made a scoreboard on the wall to track each “turf,” a segment of a precinct that could be walked by one or two people. The operation there targeted 65 precincts in Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester, Democratic strongholds packed with sporadic voters. The goal was to knock on the door of every registered voter two or three times.

    Entire precincts. Every door. One would think this would be second nature to one from the LDS church. But I digress.

    So what should we do in the future to fix this GOTV problem?

    The front-loaded primary schedule leaves plenty of time for the eventual winner – and the party apparatus prior to formal nomination – to review primary results to see who voted, and where they live, and to see more importantly who didn’t vote, because that’s who needs motivation – physical interaction – to be engaged to vote in the General Election. These groups vary by size based on when a state lies in the primary season. A Iowa or New Hampshire will have many more voters than a New Mexico, which votes usually after the primary is settled. It is this latter group which needs direct interaction, to (a) determine if the registered voter is still there, and (b) to start encouraging the voting process. Distribution and collection of Absentee Voting forms, where allowed, can and should be done here. But with what?

    The base needed to do this outreach starts forming now. Out of election season. The same people who work a phone bank can knock on a block of doors, as people did in Boston. Getting those people organized on our side has to start now, out of season. Erick Erickson over at RedState has long been a proponent of controlling the party from the ground up. This GOTV debacle begs for exactly that kind of intervention.

    Then there are the weeks before the election and election day itself. I confess to being one of those that lets all calls without a familiar number go straight to voicemail. And even in a non-competitive state like ours, we would have 4-6 call a night, every night. Door knocking is harder to avoid. It’s also more time intensive. but it’s worth it in getting people to vote.

    Did ORCA cost Romney the election by itself? No. But relying on ORCA and phone banks and limiting the number of door knocks did, among other things. Relying on untested software, phone banks, and an unseen yes or no will only net you so many votes. Let’s learn from this and get rolling soon.

    There’s another lesson to be learned, for the next post. Another lesson unlearned by Romney that cost in the final two weeks, as I feared it would. But again, that’s for another post.

    Gallows Humor

    Because gallows humor never goes out of style on Election Night, especially when the candidates you’ve worked for, donated for, come up short. This picture would’ve been appropriate if the outcome had been different as well:20121106-235643.jpgMore to follow once the dust settles.

    Winning Pennsylvania

    My Great-Grandfather came to this country almost 110 years ago. He left behind a wife and two sons in the Austria-Hungarian Empire for a chance at a better life. He landed at the Port of Baltimore, and quickly moved on with some compatriots – the first smart thing he did in the country – and went to Pittsburgh – the second smart thing he did – where he eventually found a job in Westmoreland County working in the coal mines. Well, not in the mines, for Great-Grandpa – the Old Kraut, as my father referred to him – was six foot six inches tall. In any case, he did well, well enough to be able to send for his wife and two young sons two years later. Those sons would work part of their young lives in the mines. It was the emigration path at the time. And whether it was the mines, or (later) Circle W Ranch, or U.S. Steel, Pittsburgh (and more generally Pennsylvania and the country as a whole) brought a chance for the immigrant of a good job, a future, an education for their kinds, and upward mobility.

    And though I’ve been gone from there for almost two decades (save for return trips for reunions, funerals and the like), part of my heart still calls it home. And I still watch its politics intensely.
    20121104-193703.jpgWhich is why the Romney move to gain traction in Pennsylvania – described by CAC over at Ace’s as “The White Whale” – is interesting to me. The last time a Republican won in Pennsylvania at the top of the Presidential ticket was in 1988. A friend from high school, a Dukakis supporter, made the newspaper the next day. A dejected, hang-dog look on his face. For a Republican, the look you want on those on the other side politically, friends or no.

    After 1988, the tides of the state changed. Much of it came one afternoon, in April 1991, when a helicopter and a twin-engine Piper airplane collided above Lower Merion township. The Piper carried one of the commonwealth’s Senators, John Heinz. I recall his funeral, at Heinz Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh campus, quite well. Global dignitaries, and most of Congress were there. Secret Service agents talking into their raincoat sleeves every twenty or thirty feet around the perimeter.

    Soon after, a special election was scheduled to fill the vacant seat. Governor Bob Casey, who would famously be rejected as a speaker at the following year’s Democratic National Convention, named Harris Wofford, an assistant to Sargent Shriver, to fill the seat. His opposition in the election would be the previous Governor, and Attorney General, Richard Thornburgh. Wofford’s campaign was directed by people those on the right came to know and dislike: Paul Begala and good ol’ Serpenthead himself, James Carville. Wofford ran a proto-Obama campaign, even promoting a Canadian single-payer health care plan.

    On Election night I listened to returns come in. Wofford with an early lead from Philly and Pittsburgh, as expected. Then things tightened, with “the T” – the north corridor and center of the state, the part filled with “bitter clingers” – rolled in. All that was left were the collar counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, counties that had gone Republican for years. They didn’t go Republican enough. Wofford won the seat, and Begala and Carville had a template they’d apply to a cipher of a Governor from a southern state a year later.

    Skip forward three years. Wofford is defending his seat, and his votes with the Clinton economy, against a three-term congressman from western Pennsylvania by the name of Rick Santorum. Rick ran as a Republican. As a Conservative Republican.
    Election night 1994, I was among a group of College Republicans watching the wave roll in at Richard Lugar’s Victory HQ. As the night went on, the propensity of the wave started to hit: Republicans were going to take the House for the first time in 40 years. And since I was from PA, everyone wanted my take on the Santorum-Wofford race. I explained what I wrote above. At 11 PM, it was clear that Wofford was dragging compared to three years earlier, barely up by one percent as the T came in. Left once again were the Philadelphia suburbs. This time, they showed up for Santorum. He would defend the Senate seat in 2000, before being swept out in a wave in 2006.

    So that’s a lot of history. How does it apply today?

    Well, Mitt Romney made a campaign appearance in the White Whale Sunday, in the center of the eternal headache: a farm in Bucks County, outside Philadelphia. And there were people there. Tens of thousands of people.20121104-222105.jpgEnthused voters. But will it mean anything come Tuesday? The polls, some of them, are tantalizing. Susquehanna has the race a draw, 47 percent each.

    Can it happen?

    It might. It won’t be the only shoe to drop if it does. Nor the first. I’d expect a call by 11 ET in Wisconsin or Ohio before in Pennsylvania. Any call for Romney in PA won’t come until 1 AM. If then.

    Unless this is like 1988, or 1994, or 2010.

    In which case pudding will be at the ready.