Don’t blow our GOP lead

Republicans appear poised to win great victories in November, but if we’re not careful some of us will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Let me count the ways we could lose.

First, we could proactively over-engineer our campaign strategy and tactics rather than allowing the Democrats to lose like they seem to want to. We should resist the temptation to suddenly advance multiple new policy reasons for voting Republican. Instead, we should simply be what got us here — neither more nor less. The problem with new ideas and innovations is that they can get us into trouble, the same trouble the Democrats are in, so stifle the urge to be too creative. Like skillful hunters, let victory come to us. Don’t chase it down.

Lately, I have observed that some “movement” conservatives are rolling out their buffet of new ideas with renewed passion and PR. The motivations for these moves are clear. Once the election is won, the agendanistas intend to declare victory a mandate for everything in their footnoted white papers. And we’ll be on our way to rejection again in 2012, continuing the back-and-forth that may become a way of life for the parties. Intellectual ferment and new ideas are necessary for our party, but, as any brewer knows, fermentation can lead to nasty explosions if you are not careful.

The second way we can lose is by an over-reliance on technology and math modeling. Micro-targeting is a great concept, but it’s still in its infancy and shouldn’t replace traditional targeting. Pre-recorded messages shouldn’t wholly supplant live phone banks. Math models cannot be allowed to override completely the hunches of savvy strategists. Robo-polls can’t be expected to do everything that live interview polls can do. There is an essential role for high tech to play, but we can’t relegate high touch to the archive of campaigns and elections. Republicans must actually rub real shoulders with live voters.

The third way we fumble opportunity is by forgetting that independents are the essential swing voters. I fear that many movement conservatives will return to a right-only agenda that courts the base alone while ignoring the middle. A base-only strategy will obviously lose, but that won’t stop some Republicans from returning to a tired agenda of tax cuts, social issues and national security. If jobs, jobs and jobs aren’t higher-visibility issues than taxes in our campaigns, we could see front-runners become flatliners.

The fourth way we may blow our apparent lead is on turnout. B.O. (Before Obama), turnout was in a long, slow slide downward. Personally, I think our GOP turnout was sliding faster than the Democrats in the B.O. period. Then there was an explosion of Democrats at the polls in 2008. The best evidence from primary and local elections held thus far in 2009 and 2010 suggests that most of the Obama-surge voters won’t be voting this November. But clever Democrats must be trying to come up with some way to re-motivate that slice of their party. Who knows? They may succeed. 

Meanwhile, what about a surge in Republican turnout? The early signs are that Tea Party members and sympathizers could come to the polls in significant numbers. But they didn’t do so in 2008, even as Obama threatened to upend our republic as we know it. Perhaps the apathetics have learned their lessons about failing to vote, but in the event that the lesson learned is more theoretical than practical, let’s redouble our turnout efforts. And the 72-hour strategy must evolve in key states with early-voting and liberal absentee-balloting practices. We must chase early and absentee voters this fall with the same fervor and diligence that we tracked and chased primary voters earlier in the year. 

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.