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The turnout issue in 2014

Two recent articles of interest, both about the nature of the electorate in non-Presidential years. First, via Ed Kilgore, who has been beating the drum about the volatility of the Democratic base, comes this NYT story about what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hopes to do about it as it has to defend numerous seats in tough territory.

The Democrats’ plan to hold onto their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment, and requires more than 4,000 paid staffers. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get out the vote, and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

[…]

Both voter registration and mobilization efforts are at the center of the Democrats’ new strategy. In Georgia, for example, the committee estimates that there are 572,000 unregistered African-American voters, and that there are more than 600,000 likely supporters of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate candidate there, who voted in 2012 but not in 2010. The goal, then, is to register the African-American voters, and to target the likely Nunn voters to show up to the polls during a midterm election.

But black voters who did not register to vote in 2008 or 2012, amid all of the excitement surrounding the nation’s first black president, could pose a challenge to register in 2014.

The Bannock Street project is specifically focused on ten states — Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and West Virginia — with plans for senior field operatives and other staff members to be in place by the end of the month.

No, Texas isn’t on their list. This isn’t a surprise, for multiple reasons. One, the Texas Senate race is on no one’s list of races to watch, though that will likely change in the improbable event that Steve Stockman manages to oust incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in the primary. Two, we don’t know who the Democratic nominee is. I’d say David Alameel is the most likely to draw interest from the DSCC if Cornyn gets past Stockman, as he can provide plenty of seed money for his race, but I wouldn’t expect much more than an email or two sent on his behalf by the DSCC. They just have too many other, larger fish to fry.

In addition to all that, there’s already a Democratic-focused and well-financed statewide turnout operation going on, that being of course Battleground Texas. It remains to be seen what effect they can have in Texas, especially in a year they originally weren’t expecting to be competitive statewide. One thing for sure is that there’s plenty of slack in the system for them to work with. Too many Presidential year Democrats don’t come out at other times, and too many potential Democrats don’t come out at all. The Trib takes a closer look at that.

Battleground Texas, started by former Obama operatives who want to turn the state away from its Republican devotions, is trying to register new voters, identify Democrats and turn them out for this year’s elections. They started a year ago and said it would take four to six years to turn Texas their way.

A couple of promising candidates showed up early, putting faces on the effort. The candidacies of Wendy Davis, who is running for governor, and Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor, bring some focus to the organizing efforts. After all, it is easier to raise a crowd for a candidate or a cause than for the general promotion of civic health. It helps to be about something or somebody.

Up front, the math favors the Republicans. They have been winning statewide elections for 20 years, and it has become sort of a habit. Folk music has had a bigger comeback than Texas Democrats.

The Democratic administration remains remarkably unpopular in Texas, and conservative candidates from the bottom of the ballot to the top are running against either the president, his signature health care program or both. Even if Texas suddenly had equal numbers of voting Republicans and voting Democrats, those Democrats would have the political winds in their face this year.

That last paragraph is a fundamental misunderstanding of the race this year, one that I think is far too prevalent. The first priority of Battleground Texas is to get partisan Democrats who don’t generally vote in non-Presidential years out to the polls this year. That was the secret to the Republican wave of 2010. Having a bunch of increasingly right-wing Republican candidates out there bashing President Obama and saying all kinds of crazy and offensive things about immigration, marriage equality, abortion, Medicaid, and so forth isn’t a headwind for that effort. It’s a motivating factor. If people are angry about these things, that’s awesome. It’s much easier to channel already existing emotions into action than it is to try to get someone to feel something in the first place.

Now I agree that in a straight up turnout battle, Republicans have a clear advantage. But we can’t do anything about their level of turnout. All Dems can do is work to maximize our own numbers. Only by ensuring that piece of the puzzle can Democrats like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte hope to change the focus to soft Republicans that might be turned off by their candidates’ brand of extremity. This can be done as well, and again I’d call the expected amount of vitriol from the Republican side a potential asset in that. It is possible to peel away some voters – Bill White received between 200,000 and 300,000 crossovers in 2010, running against Rick Perry. In a 2008 turnout context, I believe he would have won. In the absence of that, as was the case in 2010, he didn’t come close. Maximize the base first, everything follows from there. We may well fall short, but accomplishing that much would be a huge step forward, as turnout on the Dem side has basically been flat since 2002. I’ll take a look at that in some more detail tomorrow.

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One Comment

  1. Richard Morrison says:

    2012 Obama 3.3 million votes
    2010 Abbot 3.1 million votes

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