GOP campaigns buttressing against a potential Democratic wave in November are turning to grassroots consultants to help solidify their support and turnout voters.
Large-scale jnvestment in field programs, which was once more confined to high profile statewide races and presidentials, have become increasingly popular on the right following Democratic successes in the 2008 and 2012 cycles.
But as GOP field consultants say they are on track for a banner year, they're also facing some unexpected challenges. Primarily, a labor shortage.
The country's low unemployment rate, which remained at 4.1 percent last month, has spilled over into the campaign industry and field practitioners say it's now harder to fill the jobs they have open.
"We've never had to deal with a labor market like this," said Chris Turner, head of Stampede Consulting, which provides field services.
Turner said his firm has been recruiting candidates from other professions, including recently discharged veterans and chiropractors, to take up field work. Because of that recruiting challenge, he’s advising prospective clients to sign a letter of intent with their consultants sooner than later — similar to reserving TV time in advance — so that the shop can prepare and have staff earmarked.
"Do it early," he said.
For consultants, he advised creating a positive work environment and developing a worker retention program — something that's practically unheard of in the campaign industry. "It's a new world," said Turner.
Beyond concerns about manpower, some practitioners on the right are fretting about coordination or duplicating efforts because so many groups and campaigns are launching field programs. But Turned noted that's a norm on the Democratic side, which hasn't had an issue with too many doors being knocked.
While more on the right are coming around to field, many of the converts are marking it down as a GOTV tactic. That thinking has been spurred partly by the sharing of a graphic from a 2013 Yale field study that showed canvassing was behind only social pressure mailers when it came to getting voters to the polls.
But GOTV could be too short a runway for a successful field program, warned Josh Penry, a principal at Colorado-based EIS Solutions, which includes field services as an offering for advocacy and campaign clients.
“Where some of these programs fail, they parachute in a field program and they recruit from temp agencies,” said Penry.
“It makes a ton of sense to get out in the spring and the summer. If you’re hitting a couple hundred doors a day, you’re getting IDs, from those IDs they’re dropping mail or phone calls to the undecideds,” he said.
“Time is a critical variable. You just can’t do it in the last five days of the campaign.”
Part of the reason why field is experiencing a boom on the right is that GOP leaders recognize that the electorate is going to look considerably different than it did in 2016, according to Tim Saler, a VP at Grassroots Targeting, which offers data and targeting services.
"I think Republican organizations are giving a very healthy respect to the coalition that clinched the presidency in 2016, but I think they’re also very cognizant of what the midterm electorate will look like."
Looking beyond 2018, Saler predicted that this cycle’s results could help dictate whether the field sector continues to grow. "We're in a cycle when [budgets are] tilting toward more field, more data, more targeting,” he said.
If the Democratic wave punishes the GOP in November, "the results could shift the momentum back to TV."