Colorado Election Day smackdown: Tea Party enthusiasm versus progressive infrastructure

Republicans expect this year’s Tea Party enthusiasm to translate to enormous victories for the GOP tonight. Yet evidence on the ground seems to be confirming what some political analysts have been saying for a while: that Tea Party enthusiasm is no substitute for well-organized political movement infrastructure. The fact that the U.S. Senate race in Colorado pitting Tea Party GOP candidate Ken Buck against unloved Democrat Michael Bennet is so close down the stretch speaks volumes, according to longtime Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell.

“The Republican Party’s hopes to win control of the Senate all go through Colorado. Yet look at the Buck-Bennet race,” he said. “The Colorado [Republican] party is in disarray and the national party has fumbled the get-out-the-vote effort.”

O’Connell, who is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, believes Republicans have been covering over deep GOP infrastructure problems with Tea Party fireworks. Buck should be walloping Bennet, OConnell told the Independent. Yet, he said, Buck will likely lose the Senate contest and GOP candidates nationwide will likewise fall far short of expectations.

“Buck is on his own,” he said. “Worse, he has to handle those [Karl] Rove groups. Buck has money but no organization.”

Friends like Rove

A Bennet campaign release sent out Monday would seem to support O’Connell’s point.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Bush administration strategist Karl Rove’s American Crossroads political action committee shelled out $350,000 last month to the controversial Lincoln Strategy Group to work on Buck’s behalf getting out the vote in Colorado. Specifically, American Crossroads appears to have paid Grassroots Outreach LLC, a subsidiary of Lincoln Strategy Group, to fill in on the ground for the Buck campaign and the money-less state Republican Party.

But the Lincoln Strategy group has no infrastructure in the state and if the past is any guide, the firm notorious for voter fraud will be relying instead on dirty tricks.

In the Bennet release on the matter, spokesman Trevor Kincaid simply rounded up information about Lincoln Strategies reported widely in the mainstream press over the past few years:

In Oregon and Nevada, Lincoln Strategies — then known as Sproul and Associates — was investigated for destroying Democratic voters’ registration forms. The same was true in Minnesota, where the firm actually fired workers who brought back Democratic voter registrations. The Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign paid Sproul $7.4 million for this campaign work, including help putting Ralph Nader on the ballot in swing states. 

In California, the group had petition gatherers trick voters into registering with the GOP by telling them they were signing petitions supporting tougher penalties on child molesters, legalizing marijuana and cleaning up park benches. 

The firm’s acts have become so notorious that in a letter to the Justice Department in 2007, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman said that that Sproul’s alleged activities “clearly suppress votes and violate the law.”

O’Connell says that, by comparison, the infrastructure laid by Democrats and progressive organizations in Colorado over the span of several election cycles, reported in the Adam Schrager-Rob Witwer book The Blueprint, may well put Bennet over the top. He said close elections are won and lost on carefully built “mechanics” that turn in the end on major get-out-the-vote efforts.

“If Buck is waiting for the cavalry, he’ll be disappointed,” said O’Connell. “There is no cavalry for him.”

The Vault versus the Blueprint

O’Connell pointed to the ground-game efforts of progressive organizations like MoveOn.org, New Era Colorado and the union efforts working most notably on behalf of Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, where union groups have been busing hotel service workers to the polls.

“The GOP is working with antiquated methods. They are buying up air time — television and radio — and doing mailers, but all of that is ineffective by comparison to registering voters and knocking on doors in an efficient way. You have to constantly remind voters to turn out.”

O’Connell said that the GOP’s “voter vault” famously employed in earlier elections is now outdated. Voter Vault is an index of contact information used by the Republican Party in the past to micro-target its message to specific demographics. O’Connell said the Vault no longer works.

“Republicans are using bubble sheets and checking off voters. Democrats meanwhile are using Palm Pilots and Blackberries, updating the voter information in real time. That’s why GOP voters are getting the same robocalls all the time, even after they’ve already cast their ballots. It’s terribly inefficient.”

Steve Fenberg, founder and executive director of New Era Colorado, a progressive youth voter organization, told the Colorado Independent that even though the number of activist groups working on the ground has thinned from the heady General Election days of 2008, his group has registered just more than 10,000 voters this year, a relatively slight dip from the roughly 12,000 registered in 2008.

“Young people turn out to vote because they’re courted. They all came out in 2008 not just because Obama was on the ballot but because Obama’s campaign had a machine turning them out. He had actual infrastructure to do it. You really need to continue that investment. You can’t stop short at one election.”

This weekend New Era launched a major Halloween weekend “Trick or Vote” neighborhood campaign in Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver.

“We’ll knock on close to 10,000 doors [in Denver] on that one night. We hit like 2,000 doors just in Boulder, in youth-dense areas.”

Fenberg said his organization has more volunteers than it did in 2008.

Campaign get-out-the-vote emails sent from Democrats these last weeks are as aggressive and as specific as any from the 2008 cycle. A note sent out to supporters by Randy Wheelock, an Idaho Springs-Georgetown organizer for Democrat John Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial bid, provides a case in point. An excerpt:

This is the BIG one.  I need pollwatchers for the 7 different voting locations to work all day Tuesday.  Your job is to mark our target polling place voters off of our lists as they vote, and then bring the list to Idaho Springs in the mid afternoon to a central location where we will run a phone bank for the balance of the afternoon until the polls close, calling those who have not been crossed off the list.  We also need others who must work on their jobs that day to come to the phone bank as early as possible after work to help in the final couple of hours of calling.  Afterwards, we have an election result watching shindig at the Buffalo Restaurant, so we can just walk down to that when the polls close.

The Bennet campaign’s Kincaid has also been energized by the relatively high number of voters that have turned out in progressive Denver as opposed to conservative El Paso this cycle. As of Friday, according to the Secretary of State, 53,000 Denver Democrats and 50,000 El Paso Republicans cast early voter ballots.

“This is a situation where the sheer strength and enthusiasm from our volunteers has turned the national assumptions on their heads,” Kincaid wrote in a release.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

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