Republican road warriors are elusive

Candidates seeking Republican nominations for offices from the statehouse to the White House don’t have to go on African safaris to hunt for rare prey.

Candidates seeking Republican nominations for offices from the statehouse to the White House don’t have to go on African safaris to hunt for rare prey.

That would be too time-consuming, anyway, and it’s politically incorrect. Instead, GOP candidates should spend their time pursuing a more convenient quarry here at home. A domestic species — Republican males, 25 to 44 years of age — is just as elusive as anything they’ll find on the Dark Continent, and they can vote in the primaries ahead if you bag them.

As a pollster, I know the challenge these guys present. When we’re polling in a Republican primary contest in a suburban area around huge cities like Chicago, Miami or Houston, these are tough fellows to reach. You can call them every night for a week during standard call times, 5 to 9 p.m. local time, and never catch them at home. They’re on-the-road, ramblin’ men who come home late, or not at all.

When we’re really desirous of having these Republicans in our samples, we insist on weekend interviewing. It’s one of the few times road warriors are at home to accept calls.

Republican candidates are not the only ones chasing these guys. My first encounter with them was when I did surveys for a major airline. We wanted to interview frequent fliers to see what made them tick and might lure them to our airline. We also wanted to know how and when to communicate with them.

I discovered that these nocturnal creatures’ media consumption habits make them a tough sell. After they read their favorite newspaper in the morning, few consume much media the rest of the day. Their favorite newspaper by far is USA Today, but some read The Wall Street Journal or their local paper. Inside the USA Today, they read the sports and business sections before they look at what politicians think of as “hard news.”

As the day ends, they may catch a little of the late evening news. “Nightline” may be the only “hard news” program they watch with any regularity. If I were running for president and wanted to get before this essential group of Republican voters, I’d try to find a way to get on “Nightline” and in the business pages of USA Today.

My work for toll roads has brought me into contact with a related breed of hard-to-find Republicans. Toll-road users (and other traveling sales and service professionals) are not as mobile as their frequent-flier cousins, but they are almost as elusive. They are on the road early and get home late. In the main, they are not as upscale as frequent fliers but they still follow the same communications patterns. They may listen to a little more radio, but you can’t count on it.

One of the first politicians to understand and communicate with the Republican road warriors was former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), back in his GOPAC days. A keen observer of social behavior, Newt realized that these men spend lots of time listening to recordings, cassette tapes in those days. Motivational tapes were extremely popular, especially among traveling salesmen. Newt sought to capitalize on that by making his own cassette tapes. He distributed these for nominal costs and created a lot of GOPAC followers.

Only recently, I lunched with a middle-age Republican who confessed that Newt’s tapes were the thing that got him hooked on politics. I’m sure there are thousands of Republicans in their 50s, sprinkled all over the country, to confirm this. A few doubtless still have the tapes somewhere in the attic.

Today, cassettes are a thing of the past, but CDs and podcasts are taking their places. I see guys on planes listening to books or watching presentations on their portable DVD players or computers. If a candidate put together a well-produced infomercial, I’ll bet many would watch. If you can’t get booked on “Nightline,” it’s worth a shot.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.