During the past year, Charlie Baker’s campaign has quietly constructed a get-out-the-vote machine that outpaces any statewide Republican effort in Massachusetts history, hoping to whittle Democrats’ historically massive advantage in the art of mobilizing supporters on Election Day.
Together with the state Republican Party, Baker’s campaign has spent $2 million building the most detailed portrait of the state’s electorate any Republican here has ever had, collecting data on everything from classic car ownership to musical preference to one’s level of fondness for sweet baked goods.
It’s a modernization consistent with campaigns across the nation, but novel for a state GOP that has often lagged in innovation.
To supplement the information, Baker, who is locked in a tight race with Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, has added a more sophisticated door-knocking blueprint that, while it still pales in comparison with the Democrats’ well-honed enterprise, is far more robust than GOP candidates usually rely on here. But just how successful the effort has been will not be truly tested until Election Day.
“It’s nothing like what’s been done by a Republican in Massachusetts before,” said Brian Wynne, director of Mass. Victory, the state GOP’s coordinated campaign efforts, which funnels voter information from 75 campaigns, down to the state representative level, into a centralized database known, somewhat anachronistically, as “the supercomputer.”
“Charlie thinks he got severely outplayed, severely,” on the ground in 2010 when he tried to unseat Governor Deval Patrick, said Baker campaign manager Jim Conroy. The current effort, Conroy said, has drawn Republicans “dead even” with Democrats in the competition for the most useful data.
Massachusetts Republicans have been competitive statewide when they effectively sell the message that Beacon Hill needs a counterbalance to a Democratic majority, and when they raise enough money to broadcast that message. Bill Weld, Mitt Romney, Paul Cellucci, and Scott Brown all scored victories in that manner.
What has historically been missing is any semblance of a “ground game,” the nuts and bolts of identifying voters likely to vote for their candidate and then delivering them to the polls. That dimension has been owned by Democrats, particularly during the eras of Michael Dukakis and Patrick, both evangelists of grass-roots politics.
That machine has helped Democrats establish an almost unblemished record in the past several years, flooding the polls with enough voters on Election Day to help even damaged candidates such as US Representative John F. Tierney, who narrowly beat Richard Tisei in 2012 despite being beset by personal problems. Tierney this year lost his Democratic primary to Seth Moulton, who will face Tisei in November.
When Coakley lost to Brown in the special election for the US Senate in 2010 — the Democrats’ most recent loss in a statewide or congressional race — many pointed to the party’s failure to activate their ground operation until it was too late.
Republicans now have 25 paid field staffers and 27 field offices responsible for various pockets of the state, about six times what they had in 2010, Wynne said. Volunteers and staffers have made more than 1.2 million phone calls, and are certain by the Nov. 4 election to easily surpass the 1.5 million placed in 2012 on behalf of Brown in his Senate race against Elizabeth Warren. They have knocked on 180,000 doors, far more than the 110,000 hit in 2012.
Still, Republicans are merely shaving the opposition’s advantage, not even hoping to match the Democrats’ efforts.
“At the end of the day, I’m sure they’re going to do more door knocks,” Conroy said.
This year, the extensive data-culling effort has produced an impressive — even unnerving — lode of information. Baker aides say they have piled up 5,000 data points on every potential Baker voter, in an operation that Conroy called “light-years ahead” of President Obama’s vaunted 2008 voter-targeting apparatus, largely credited with revolutionizing campaigns. The Baker information lode is built on records from previous campaigns, donor information, and consumer data, much of which is supplied by the Republican National Committee.
Wynne speaks in excited tones about field metrics dashboards, Web-based predictive dialer applications that make calling potential supporters easier, and “text-based Twitter targeting,” a program that scans voters’ Twitter feeds for indications of how they might vote.
The campaign’s lens has been so fine that it used the campaign’s “supercomputer” model to determine whether the type of siding on a voter’s home could be a useful electoral predictor. (The good news, for those leery of receiving political appeals based on whether they are the stucco or brick type — it’s not.)
“The point of this program is: If you don’t play on the ground at all, you’re going to lose,” Wynne said.