Nope. Nothing is less attractive to me than sitting in some office park and making phone calls with a prepared script. Talking to neighbors, letting them see the passion behind the policy prescriptions is more my bag. Can you say, “MORE SUPPORT FOR RTCs, PLEASE.” And while we’re saying that, RTC membership needs become better advocates and DO more on their own, away from the Victory Centers.
Much of the theory behind the 72-hour model is excellent: It puts a premium on person-to-person campaigning, voter registration, and absentee and early voting. On Election Day, the 72-hour model advocates sending volunteers door to door to make sure Republicans get to the polls.
But the 72-hour model has a fatal flaw: It is centralized. It relies on regional phone banks and “walk teams” that enter unfamiliar neighborhoods. The focus is on metrics and counting “contacts.” The 72-hour model severs the relationship between the grass roots and the neighborhoods. It creates a layer of anonymity at the exact moment in a campaign when personal relationships are most powerful.
If you volunteered for a Republican campaign in the past decade, chances are you were directed to a “Victory Center.” You were given a phone and a script. You called a stranger and read them the script. If they weren’t home, you left a message. Congratulations, you just made a “contact.” If you signed up to walk precincts, you were directed to a central location and handed a map, lists, and literature. Leave a door hanger, and you made another “contact.”
It wasn’t always this way. The traditional grass-roots model was neighborhood-based. It’s what we used to refer to as a “field organization.” Campaigns would recruit county chairs, town chairs, and precinct captains. These local volunteers – supported by the campaign’s field staff – did the job of registering voters, asking for their vote, identifying supporters, and getting them to the polls. They held house parties, knocked on doors, distributed signs, and tracked the votes on Election Day – all within their own neighborhood.
But the anonymous phone calls aren’t working. We must go back to the neighborhood-based model. We need neighbors reaching out to neighbors. That’s a meaningful and persuasive contact. When you get a political call from a campaign volunteer, you should recognize the name of a friend on the caller ID.
Campaigns will need much larger field staffs. Consultants don’t make a commission when they hire field representatives the way they do with television ads, direct mail, robocalls, and even centralized phone banks, so expect a lot of pushback. And the GOP needs to retrain an entire generation of operatives. After all, they’ve been taught that campaigning consists of reporting how many “contacts” they’ve made so someone can announce to the press how well the campaign is doing with its “grassroots” efforts.
None of this will be a panacea. Republicans need to improve their branding and outreach, and to get much better at explaining their positions and dealing with the media. But is there a better way to reach new communities and overcome a negative, media-driven image than by sending a neighbor to knock on another neighbor’s front door?