Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie needs more help from the Republican party’s Victory 365 ground game to defeat incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) in next month’s election, despite good reviews in the conservative media for his campaigning style and recent polls that show he’s cut a 20 point deficit in early September down to 10 to 12 points in early October.
On Thursday, The Weekly Standard reported: “as Kim Strassel, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Ross Douthat have all noted in recent days, Virginia GOP Senate candidate Ed Gillespie is running an unusually (for this cycle) ideas-focused, reform-minded campaign. In particular, he’s the only GOP Senate candidate so far who has advanced a genuine alternative to Obamacare.”
Meanwhile, Warner appears to have stumbled recently, caught up in “alleged ethical violations involving possible discussions of a federal judgeship for the daughter of a key Democratic state senator whose position was important to Democrats’ efforts to expand Obamacare in the state,” as the Standard reported.
In its October 7 race analysis, Real Clear Politics wrote: “the Christopher Newport poll [released that day] showing a 12-point Warner lead [51% to 39%] is actually quite good for Gillespie, as it had previously shown him down by 20. This race is clearly tightening, but there probably isn’t time for Gillespie to close the gap before Election Day.”
That same day, a University of Mary Washington Poll indicated that Warner’s lead over Gillespie had shrunk to 10 points, 47% to 37%.
This good polling news for Gillespie is set against a backdrop of a statewide Republican ground game that can be described as sporadic at best, one that is very dependent on the quality of the local Congressional campaign and the engagement of the local Republican committees.
The party has set up about a dozen Victory 365 field operation offices around the state. The level of ground game operation appears to vary widely among those offices.
A source familar with ground game operations visited the Republican Party’s Victory 365 field office in Lynchburg, Virginia last week and was not impressed.
“First,” the source told Breitbart News, “the office is in a bad office location. It’s in the very back of a shopping center.”
“When I visited the office during a weekday, the field director was not there. In fact, besides one paid staffer, nobody else was there.”
“My understanding is they are desperate for volunteers,” the source continued.
A veteran of years of on the ground field work, the source told Breitbart News that “the GOP has no idea how to staff field operations.”
“They take a Hill staffer and try to turn them into a field operations person and it just doesn’t work,” the source said. “A Hill staffer wants to work in a nice office wearing a nice suit, write a report, hand it in to his or her boss, and get a pat on the back telling them how smart they are. A field operations person just needs to go out there and doggedly and persistently get usable data from high volumes of person-to-person contact.”
“It’s not glamorous, it’s hard,” the source concluded. “That’s why RNC field office directors don’t really like to do it.”
Another Virginia source told Breitbart News, “the Victory 365 field offices are trying hard to be relevant, but not succeeding. They are run by operatives with turnover. And each ground game is unique to a campaign where they must generate and execute their own strategies. It’s hard to cover all the bases within a federal or even state race because the Democrats are pouring lots of cash into their campaigns.”
But a third Virginia source said, “in Central Virginia we are using apps and other technologies which rival or exceed those used by the Democrats. It seems the candidate still gets to choose which competing systems to use. It would be better to have a statewide system of seamless information sharing, but we’re winning in our area with what we have. Cost of upgrading is a consideration. For now, we are operating at a 21st century level.”
The source confirmed those door hangers were being distributed in support of the Ed Gillespie for Senate campaign.
A fourth source, familiar with the Republican ground game operations in Prince William County, Virginia in the Washington suburbs, told Breitbart News that while the campaigns themselves, including Gillespie’s, had plenty of energy, the local committees who have traditionally done the bulk of the real door-to-door work were low on both volunteers and enthusiasm.
“I see fewer paid staff than in previous years, and in Prince William County they’re not engaging in Sunday door-to-door activities. In earlier campaigns, we hit it hard on Sundays during the last six weeks of the campaign.”
The experienced Prince William County canvasser added that “when Cuccinelli supporters took over the party structure, at least here in Prince William County, they wound up kicking out the good grassroots leaders and replaced them with what I call ‘plaque holders,’ but they don’t work, they don’t do anything.”
“You know what I mean by ‘plaque holders.’ They’re the ambitious people who show up at the Republican Party events to have their picture taken holding plaques praising their services, but the reality is they haven’t done anything to deserve praise.”
With 13 days to go and at least 10 points to make up, the Gillespie campaign is going to need something significant to break its way if it is to have a chance of winning on election day.