Sunday, Sept. 5, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Broke and lacking in organization, the Nevada Republican Party could use some help.
Enter Karl Rove.
A key adviser to President George W. Bush, Rove is the force behind two independent expenditure groups that will attempt to raise the fortunes of Republicans here.
Over the next two months Rove’s Crossroads GPS and its sister organization, American Crossroads, will pour money into key races and attempt to build a ground game — political speak for the grass-roots organizations that put bodies in voting booths.
Although Republicans welcome the assistance, the fact the groups are organizing here is in some ways a tacit admission that the state party is, in some regards, a failure.
The public perception of political parties is that they’re about the principles and agendas their candidates espouse. At the state and local level they’re something far more mundane — organizations that raise money and mobilize members to get candidates elected.
Few disagree that in this regard, Nevada Republicans are in bad shape, particularly compared with the state’s Democratic Party, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has spent six years building into a well-funded and efficient machine.
“It’s not a secret to anybody” that the Nevada Republican Party is struggling, Chairman Mark Amodei said. “We’re not going to have the money the Democrats have. The challenge we have is to do it the old-fashioned way, the sweat-equity way.”
The last time Republicans fielded a big-league ground operation here was in 2004, when they ran roughshod over Democrats. Rove was a key player that year, although at the national level, helping Bush win a second term with his newly pioneered microtargeting operation.
The Rovian tactic tapped consumer data to pinpoint voters most likely to support Bush based on their consumer profiles. A household that liked NASCAR and subscribed to hunting magazines, for example, would likely be inundated with GOP mailers.
His efforts this year on behalf of Nevada Republicans will be more basic. Crossroads GPS announced it will spend $10 million on get-out-the-vote efforts in Nevada and seven other states to supplement heavy television advertising.
With Reid on the top of the ticket, the group is focusing on the Silver State. The two groups have spent more in Nevada — including a $900,000 television buy late last month — than any of their other target states.
But will Rove be the long-term savior of the Nevada Republican Party?
Crossroads GPS won’t be building a turnout machine for the GOP in Nevada. Instead, it will be supplementing what is — or isn’t — here. The focus will be phone calls, direct mail and an absentee ballot program.
In other words, it won’t actually put boots on the ground to get voters to the polls. The task of knocking on doors and driving voters to the ballot boxes will still be left to the party.
Crossroads GPS will, however, partner with “like-minded” state organizations to do some of that as well.
Although the Republican Party could use the help, too many sticks stirring the pot could lead to problems.
By law, a wall of separation must stand between independent groups and the candidates or party. They aren’t allowed to communicate. That means there is a strong potential for either duplicating efforts or working at cross purposes.
“You never know what they’re going to do,” said Ryan Erwin, a chief consultant to former state Sen. Joe Heck, a Republican running in the 3rd Congressional District. “You never know who they are going to target. You don’t know what message they are going to use. You don’t know whether they’re going to pronounce the name of the state correctly.”
Still, over the next two months Rove’s presence will be felt, along with other factors that will help compensate for a broken state party — motivated voters, and several top-of-the-ticket campaigns being run by professionals. Heck, gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval and Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, will be organizing get-out-the-vote efforts.
What does this amount to for Republicans?
It might focus some of the anti-incumbent energy and compensate temporarily for the party’s failures over the past six years.
Yet funding an election-specific turnout machine is different from building a party organization that will endure.
Democrats, for example, have built a network of strong county parties, a professional staff who runs the state party, a pristine voter file and canvassers with technology that helps locate supporters and get them to the polls.
Rove won’t be building an organization. So after Nov. 2 it will again fall to the state party and top elected officials to do just that.
“Remember, once the 2004 election was over, Karl Rove and his team pulled out stakes and left,” Muth said. “There was no one to follow up on that. They put together a machine just to re-elect Bush.”
In the meantime Rove’s efforts could mean the difference in close races, which several are shaping up to be.
“You always have a potential of an outside group coming into a state they’re not completely familiar with and screwing something up,” Muth said. “But considering how badly things are screwed up in Nevada already, it’s hard to imagine they would do any worse than the Republican Party has already done.”