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Democrats Banking on Well-Funded Ground Game in Colorado

Democrats Banking on Well-Funded Ground Game in Colorado

San Francisco based NextGen Climate Action Committee, the political arm of the non-profit climate change group founded by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, is one of several liberal groups providing manpower and financial resources to help a robust and well-financed Democratic ground game in Colorado in support of incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), who trails Republican challenger Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO) by 2 points in the most recent poll.

Democrats are predicting their ground game advantage will add anywhere from 1 percentage point to 4 percentage points to the final poll numbers in the ten key swing Senate races in 2014.
 
GOP officials are not conceding they are at a  ground game disadvantage in Colorado, despite press reports to the contrary and less visible support from third party conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
 
Chris Hansen, manager of Gardner’s campaign, told U.S. News on Wednesday that when it comes to the Republican ground game in Colorado, “[w]e’ve done what we believed is necessary for this campaign. And it’s never been done in Colorado before.”
 
Hansen, however, declined to elaborate on those necessary things the campaign has done.

Owen Loftus, director of communications for the Colorado Republican Party, said the GOP is operating 14 Victory 365 field offices in conjunction with the Republican National Committee (RNC) for the purpose of getting out the vote for both Cory Gardner’s Senate campaign and Beau Beauprez’s Gubernatorial campaign.

Loftus, however, declined to provide any metrics of the GOP’s Colorado effort. Citing RNC instructions, Loftus declined to indicate how many canvassers, volunteer and paid, are involved in the “GOTV” efforts, nor would he say how many doors they have knocked on.

He did confirm, however, that the get-out-the-vote effort is using the GeoConnect mobile software application developed by controversial Republican consulting firm FLS Connect for use by door-to-door canvassers. He also said that the decision to use GeoConnect for all mobile software was made by the state party, the RNC, Gardner’s campaign, and the Beauprez campaign in early 2014, when the application replaced one of another vendor.

FLS Connect, founded by Tony Feather and former RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson in 1999, was by a large margin the top recipient of RNC funds in the 2012 cycle, receiving over $37 million, but came under criticism after Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid.
 
Indeed, in Colorado and around the country, officials at the Republican National Committee and various GOP campaigns and committees are highly secretive about anything related to the metrics of the party’s Victory 365 get-out-the-vote effort, which focuses on nine other key swing states in addition to Colorado.

GOP operatives say they are trying to conduct the get-out-the-vote operation in complete secrecy, so as to not give any valuable information away to the Democratic competition, thereby lulling them into complacency about the superiority of their own operations. 

Of course, similar assurances in 2012 gave way to backbiting after the Romney effort proved a bust.
 
The GOP remains tight-lipped about the details of its Victory 365 ground game, unlike the Democrats, who proudly promote their efforts to keep the Senate with the ground game this year. Dubbed the Bannock Street Project, this $60 million ten state effort has been publicized for most of 2014 in press outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others.
 
In Colorado, for instance, the Udall campaign recently told U.S. News it has “4,000 volunteers – a number nearly four times as big as [Senator] Bennet’s [(D-CO) 2010] operation. On the stump last week, the candidate talked about the 7,000 volunteer shifts already scheduled. The party has hired 100 paid organizers and has set up 25 field offices around the state. Bloomberg reported that $15 million will be invested in Udall’s get-out-the-vote operation when all is said and done.”
 
Democratic political operative Craig Hughes, who ran successful Colorado campaigns in 2010 and 2012 “believes a strong field operation is worth around four percentage points [for Udall] in the final margin,” according to Denver television station KDVR. Other Democratic political operatives around the country are more cautious about how much the Democrats’ vaunted ground game in ten key Senate states (of which Colorado is one) will add to polling results. But even one percentage point extra could make the difference in Colorado, which in turn could make the difference in determining which party controls the Senate in 2015.

As U.S. News reported on Wednesday “[a]ccording to a Republican source with knowledge of the Gardner effort, Hansen hired 500 college students in May to form the foundation of the campaign’s ground game. By August, that number had ballooned to 1,000 . . . Gardner’s campaign now pays around 2,000 canvassers, and Republicans in the state are confident Hansen’s early groundwork will pay dividends.”
 

The evidence of this paid army of canvassers has not yet shown up in Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports. In May, for instance, the Gardner campaign listed only 15 canvassers on staff, according to reports filed with the FEC by the campaign. By June that number had grown to 46, a far cry from the 500 reported for that period by U.S. News.

The most recent FEC report filed by the Gardner campaign on October 15 for the quarter beginning on July 1 and ending on September 30, not yet available to review online, was an astounding 1,730 pages. The RNC may also be paying canvassers directly to work on the Gardner campaign.
 
As for the Democrats and their allies, FEC records show that Steyer has personally contributed $41 million of the $42 million raised by NextGen Climate Action Committee during the year and a half from January 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. During the first six months of 2014, the committee spent over $300,000 on political activities in Colorado.
 
The committee also contributed $5 million to Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC and $150,000 to the League of Conservation voters in 2014, each of which is providing help to the Udall campaign.
 
According to its web site, NextGen Climate, a 501 c 4 non-profit, and its political arm, Next Gen Climate Action Committee, was”[f]ounded by investor and philanthropist Tom Steyer in 2013, we act politically to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity. Working at every level, we are committed to supporting candidates, elected officials and policymakers across the country that will take bold action on climate change–and to exposing those who deny reality and cater to special interests.”
 
The NextGen Climate outreach to Colorado voters focuses on the need to re-elect Udall for his support of policies to limit carbon emissions, a message that resonates with the state’s large population of liberal voters.

“Climate change threatens Colorado’s communities, economy and our pristine environment,” its website reads. “As intensifying wildfires threaten our state, Congressman Cory Gardner peddles his extreme views and pads his campaign coffers with Big Oil contributions. It’s time to stand up for what’s right for Colorado families. It’s time to take action.”
 
The most well-known counterpart conservative non-profit organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has publicly stated it is developing a $125 million voter contact program of its own in 2014 and 2016. The New York Times recently reported that AFP has hired 500 paid canvassers over the last few weeks of the campaign to knock on doors in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina, which would leave 125 paid staffers in each state on average.
 
The entire guessing game of which candidate will win is further complicated by the new “vote by mail” program in Colorado. Democrats think this program will work to their advantage on election day. Republicans warn that it is highly vulnerable to fraud, and point to James O’Keefe’s latest undercover video expose released on Wednesday as concrete evidence of that vulnerability.
 

Under representing likely voters in their survey methodology was a major reason that “[i]n the 2012 U.S. presidential election, most pre-election polls underestimated Barack Obama’s popular vote strength,” as a June 2013 report from Gallup on 2012 Presidential polling results noted.

While Gallup and other major polling firms have attempted to improve their survey methodologies for their polling of Senate races in 2014, it is not clear that any of them have developed a way to predict how successful the Democratic Party’s $60 million “Bannock Street project” will be at encouraging “unlikely” left-leaning voters to turn up at the polls on election day this November.

In Colorado, Democrats continue to believe they have a superior ground game, and that it will give them the extra 1 to 4 points Senator Udall needs to keep his seat. Republicans are confident their newly launched, untested, and very secretive ground game operations will show those extra Democratic points are non-existent.

We won’t know for sure which party is right until election day.

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