Christian Science Monitor
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How the GOP turned the art of electioneering into a science.
You could hardly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper in recent weeks without learning about a Republican running for his or her life. Of course, no one knows yet what voters will really do in the privacy of the voting booth next week.
But whatever happens on Election Day, nothing changes the fact that the Republican Party has the upper hand over the Democrats in the mechanics of campaigning: money, message, and organization. Even should the GOP suffer a setback at the polls, these formidable advantages will not disappear anytime soon.
The new book One Party Country: Republican Dominance in the 21st Century examines the nuts-and-bolts of the way Republicans have been building this sturdy foundation aimed at achieving successive election victories.
At a time when Republicans have not articulated a clear strategy in the Iraq war and have bungled the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, “One Party Country” suggests that the immediate priority and long-range plan of the Republican Party is wrapped up in winning elections. With so much of the focus on electoral tactics, the offshoot is that governing the country takes a secondary role.
“One Party Country” does a good job of spelling out the GOP electoral strategy objectively and in detail, and without evidence of partisan leanings.
Written by two investigative reporters for the Los Angeles Times, Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, this book shows the signs of incisive journalistic digging. Early on, a minihistory lesson shows how the Republicans seized the opportunities for electoral success afforded by redistricting, particularly in the South.
More recently, the Republican Party has shown that it is well on its way to flawlessly executing the technique of microtargeting – developing messages and reaching specific individuals who are most likely to vote for a candidate. A new approach to conducting campaigns, it puts the onus on campaign staffs to learn about voters, including those who have not turned out in the past.
The authors extensively discuss the Voter Vault, a database of names, voter registrations, positions on key issues, and marketing information that can help the GOP reach new voters.
With this under-the-radar model, the Republicans would take the Democrats by surprise, the authors say. “It was the political equivalent of stealth technology in air power: Democrats would feel the bombs explode, but they could not see the bombers.”
In 2004, the Bush campaign, led by master strategists Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, spent $120 million in grass-roots politicking.
It’s been successful so far, according to Hamburger and Wallsten. In numerous regions of the country, Republicans are siphoning off votes from several demographic groups that traditionally vote Democratic: Latinos, African-Americans, and Jews.
In the current environment, politics goes beyond targeting blocs of voters right before elections. Republicans frame all issues, including managing governmental regulations, in terms of gaining political advantage. Bush’s faith-based initiatives were intended to cultivate support among African-American preachers, and educational reforms have helped him with minority voters.
Even mid-level bureaucrats don’t escape the attention of GOP political operatives, the authors write.
They also explain the importance of the conservative network’s weekly meetings led by Grover Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform in keeping the two main groups (the fiscal and social conservatives) focused on their common GOP connection.
The reporters were able to get into a few of these private forums where conservatives can promote a message or share disagreements. Mr. Rove explained the Medicare prescription drug plan to this gathering and encouraged them to support it or keep mum if they did not, all for continued electoral success.
Particularly with midterm elections looming, “One Party Country” leaves the reader with fundamental questions: Are the Democrats about to put a halt to Republican dominance? If not, what might US society look like with a one-party system where campaigning is king, and governing an afterthought?
Ari Pinkus is a Monitor editor.