Victory Centers: Do They Work?

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?

About TLCWeld

Chairman, Reading Republican Town Committee
Constitutional Conservative
As a son of NH, I choose to Live Free or Die

  • edfactor

    Karl –

    Let me congratulate you for actually talking about real, important issues that we have rather than the 24×7 ideology war. (Yes we have to do that also, but not always at the expense of everything else.)

    I think the party and campaigns centralize things because they think the RTCs and SC members are useless. But, even though this is often true (certainly not in Reading) the campaigns end up perpetuating the problem. When the campaigns fold, all their stuff goes away and the RTCs are no better off. That’s craziness. The campaign should spend resources strengthening the RTC so that even if the campaign loses, the RTC is stronger for the next campaign. (For example, at least Linda McMahon, in bribing all the RTCs so support her in the Connecticut Senate primary this year, left them all with a lot of money to do things even though she lost. That’s the right approach.)

    What we really need is centralized technology that the RTCs can use locally. So, in the world I am designing now, there is a central database of voters and their social networks that is available in a handheld app that the RTCs can use when they knock on doors. Getting this central-local balance correct is very important.

    So, absolutely, we must start thinking about the organization of the party and how the state party and campaigns and RTCs and individual Republicans should collaboration. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. But damn! let’s talk about it.

  • Karl,

    Your posts have been excellent!

    We can have the best technology and make the most telephone calls, but we will still be at a loss if we do not learn that it is the personal connections between activists and voters that make the best form of contact, the best opportunity to convince someone to vote for our candidates.  The Victory Centers do not let us get to the personal level with voters, we are too far removed from them and, too often, they are too far removed from the activists.

    The Dems don’t seem to follow the Victory Center approach.  Peter Durant mentioned Tuesday night how his opponent’s AND Elizabeth Warren’s office was right across the street from his.  This struck a chord.  Note that it was not his AND Scott Brown’s, it was his.

    The Dems share their resources, all across the board, this enables them to have offices in every community, even multiple in many communities, which has people walking and talking with people they know and see frequently.  So the first contact may be with a door knocking effort, but the second might be in line at the grocery, the third waiting for the bus, the fourth at a children’s soccer game, the fifth at a local hearing and on and on.  When I go to Boston and get sent to door knock in South Boston it is almost 100% guaranteed that I will never see the people with whom I interact again.  This gives the Dems a decided advantage and one we can overcome if we listen to some of our own advice.  We claim to believe that local government is better than state government which is better than federal government (i.e. closer is better) but when we campaign we go all federal.  Let’s rethink the Victory Center approach and push out to where the voters and activists live, work and play.