Las Vegas Sun

February 20, 2024

Political Memo:

For GOP, disarray not the only issue

To hear some Republicans tell it, the disarray of their state party apparatus isn’t much to worry about.

After all, they’ve got the cavalry coming in the form of nearly unlimited spending from outside political nonprofit groups, which can blanket the airwaves with ads and even pinch hit in the all-important ground game.

The money part is true. Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-founded political organization, just launched an expensive, monthlong ad blitz in Las Vegas.

And Americans for Prosperity, funded by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, has been busy knocking on doors, identifying voters and building the turnout machine that’s usually run by the state party.

But can a patchwork of unaffiliated political groups — which by law cannot coordinate with any candidate’s campaign — run as efficient an operation as the joined efforts of a candidate and the party?

One might look back to the 2004 presidential race in Nevada for insight into that question.

Democrat John Kerry was up against a powerful incumbent, President George W. Bush, who had had four years to craft a formidable turnout machine in Nevada and other swing states.

Democrats in Nevada had nothing similar to fall back on. Although the Nevada Democratic Party was free of the caustic in-fighting that now grips the Nevada Republican Party, it had not yet built the ground game for which it has since become well-known.

At the time, Democrats said: Don’t worry! We’re not the only ones spending money in this state.

Indeed, a new kind of political organization — known as the 527 — had cropped up. Americans Coming Together, in particular, vowed to build a turnout machine to rival Bush’s. The effort would augment the state party’s fledgling organization, they argued.

In the end, however, America Coming Together’s ground game failed to live up to the task. What’s worse, it also may have created some confusion, knocking on the same doors as party operatives.

Democratic strategists attribute the failure to the newness of relying on independent groups to do turnout, saying that the kinks needed to be worked out.

In fact, Democratic interests have now figured out how to deploy independent groups more strategically so they aren’t stepping on the efforts of the party or the campaigns.

But campaigns run a risk when they outsource the ground game task — and sometimes the ad wars — to organizations over which they have no control.

In 2004, the infamous Swiftboat ads effectively slammed Kerry while allowing Bush to keep his hands clean of what many saw as a repugnant attack.

But it can also backfire.

Most recently, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was forced to repudiate an ad strategy planned by billionaire Joe Ricketts. As reported by the New York Times, Ricketts’ super PAC planned to attack Obama for his association with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“There is a risk when running a campaign that some of the third-party activity could create a backlash or a blow back. There’s always that risk,” Republican strategist Greg Ferraro said. “But you’ve got to run your campaign, manage your resources the best you can ... and not worry about what is the third-party activity.”

Beyond the logistical problems of relying on an outside organization to do turnout and persuasion, Republicans run into a problem of perception.

Anger toward Wall Street and corporate America remains on voters minds. And saying, “Don’t worry, my pal the billionaire will help out,” might not be the best way to go.

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