For the last few cycles, Republicans have invested in paid ground game only situationally. The reason? Part of it lies in the “paid door” industry’s well-earned stigmas and negative stereotypes – especially when it comes to the quality of workforce you get when you hire a firm to canvass for you and the lack of assurance that the work is actually getting done.
This year things stepped up a bit. The RNC made a major investment in the RLI program (Republican Leadership Initiative), a sort of GOP version of Obama’s vaunted ground machine.
By the time Election Day rolled around, the Party augmented their investment further by engaging professional firms to assist in battlegrounds.
Our teams knocked doors coast-to-coast, from the far northeastern tip of our country, in Maine’s 2nd congressional district, where we made some history and helped deliver an Electoral College vote for President-elect Trump, all the way down to Florida. And from the far west coast of Northern California back to the Rust Belt, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As well as points in between.
In places like Nevada, we saw first-hand just how good the Democrats are at this. They’ve got decades of experience in organizing, running absentee ballot chase programs, voter reg programs, and paid GOTV efforts. They’ve used this tool – ground game – to win and win and win. After years of being kicked in the teeth on the ground, Republicans have finally started to buy in and this year we had some success fighting back.
Here are the two main lessons I learned from 2016.
Shut Your Mouth and Listen.
Michigan's 1st congressional district, which was an open-seat House race because of Rep. Dan Benishek’s (R) retirement, covers the entire Upper Peninsula and 16 of the 21 counties of the Lower Peninsula. It’s low-density in terms of population with only a few urban enclaves. And it was ground zero for the Trump wave.
Public polling had Hillary Clinton winning Michigan by an average of 3.6 points. But if any of the major media outlets had gone into the UP with us and knocked doors for an afternoon, they would have seen the Trump phenomenon happening.
What I learned is that the earlier you get out there, knock doors and gather data from the voters who’ll be making the decisions, the better your opportunity to win. This is the principle of “he or she who farms first wins.” I saw that all year. Those who were able to put aside their preconceived notions and who invested early in farming (data capture) gained a huge advantage.
More Gratitude, Less Screaming.
As consultants, we can get stressed as we approach Election Day. We can get distracted. We can get self-important or worse. I spent this cycle working very hard on being genuinely grateful for the chance to contribute. And most importantly for the efforts put in by members of our team and expressing that gratitude to them.
I learned years ago that in exchange for a salary, a human being will give you 50 percent of his or her capacity. The goal of a leader is therefore simple. It’s to get more than that 50 percent. The closer you get to 100, the better the leader. The secret is that the only way to achieve this – the only way to get that kind of productivity from your team is to have them volunteer it willingly. They have to give it to you for free.
In Florida this year, we did something few canvassing programs ever try. And we did it on a timeline and a scale that, to my knowledge, has never been attempted.
Our mission was statewide GOTV. We set up regional offices, sometimes at a local GOP HQ, sometimes in the foyer of a Hampton Inn and deployed Field Directors into each.
We had to recruit, train and deploy a large, high-quality workforce quickly if we were going to meet the immense contact attempt goals set out for us.
Ultimately, we met our goals. The secret we used to achieve them was gratitude.
Naturally, we had numerical goals for the program and all of our C-level team members knew what they were and tracked them hour by the hour. But our regional Field Directors didn’t have any door goals at all. That was the innovation. No door goals at all for FDs. Instead, their primary key performance indicator (KPI), the one we tracked daily as a gauge of their performance, was for them to call every one of their canvassers each day, and express genuine gratitude for what they were doing.
It led to incredible productivity. We beat our proscribed contact attempt goals by 6 percent because gratitude fueled our people to go above and beyond, to stretch themselves, and deliver a knockout blow in Florida.
Chris Turner is the CEO of Stampede Consulting, a GOP firm specializing in grassroots politics.