Sunday, October 24, 2004

Minnesota, Election Battleground 2004 - The Inside Story

Around the nation, Minnesota still carries a reputation as a bastion of liberalism. It’s widely still considered the state of Humphrey, Mondale, and Wellstone.

But those of us who live here know things are changing. The Minnesota Republican Party is demonstrating new vitality, and showing tangible results – capturing the state House, the governorship, a U. S. Senate seat, the majority of U.S. Representative seats, and the majority of statewide offices – since 2000. This is a state demonstrably trending Republican.

The question this raised for me was how this would translate into the 2004 presidential election. Will the Minnesota Republican Party of 2004 be able to mount an effort to win the state for a GOP presidential candidate for the first time since 1972? If so, how will it do it?

In 2000 George W. Bush narrowly lost Minnesota to Al Gore, winning 1,109,659 votes, to Gore’s 1,168,266 (source: 2000 OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS).

I was curious about the 2004 Republican effort, and how it might compare to that of 2000.

The polls currently show the presidential race in Minnesota to be a dead heat once again. But most polls seem to be basing their predictions on historical data, Most commonly, this seems to be extrapolated from the 2000 election numbers. Yet it has been my contention that this is likely to understate Republican strength, because the Bush campaign and Minnesota state party have been more effective in organizing their grassroots effort this year than was true in 2000.

However, this was no more than a gut feeling, backed by a few anecdotes. I had insufficient experience or knowledge to confidently back this up.

In pursuit of some better answers, I set out to talk to someone with longtime experience in the Minnesota Republican Party, who had detailed knowledge of how this campaign is being conducted and how that might differ from previous campaigns.

Scott Brooks (a.k.a. Pinkmonkeybird) introduced me to a longtime Republican Party official in Hennepin County. Out of respect for his privacy, I’m withholding his name.

I hope the following is as helpful and insightful to others as it was to me.


I met this source along with Scottt at the Uptown Bar & Café in Minneapolis, on the evening of Thursday, October 21, 2004. After some introductions, and general conversation, we began to get into the “nuts and bolts” discussion. Our first topic concerned the 72 Hour Task Force; a national strategy of the Bush campaign in which the final three days leading up to the election are concentrated on most effectively getting your voters to the polls. My source had an interesting revelation about this 72 Hour Task Force. He contends that it is based on a strategy put together in Minnesota for the 2002 gubernatorial election, which resulted in the election of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty.

I immediately followed up and asked him how it came about in Minnesota.

Source: 40 people sat down of varying degrees of experience. But, one publication said it was 40 of the most astute political minds in Hennepin County. Piece by piece we put together, over three days, eight to ten hour sessions, how to best win an election in the last three days.

This was three years ago, in preparation for the Minnesota gubernatorial election. And we got [Senator Norm] Coleman elected. We got [Governor Tim] Pawlenty elected.

Karl Rove looked at our results and reportedly said out loud “holy shit!” And they based their campaign’s 72 hour plan on what we came up with in Hennepin County. The 72 Hour Task Force. In fact, they didn’t even change the name we gave it.

It’s national now. It was 5th district before [referring to Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District – ed.].

The techniques used were techniques we were all familiar with in those planning sessions. It was a matter of putting them together in the most effective way possible.

How does this campaign compare to others?

It uses the same techniques we’ve had. I became interested in politics when I was 12. I still have my “I like Ike” button. Nothing really has changed except refining the way things are done.

For example: a simple thing like door-knocking and lit dropping. Over the years we’ve discovered that if you actually talk to the voter when you drop the lit, it increases the vote count by three per visit. Lit dropping is a lot easier. You stick it in the door. There’s a six to seven percent increase in voter turn-out if you target swing voters as opposed to party faithful alone.

Me: Target exclusively?

Source: Targeting means you don’t stop at every door; just the known swing voters and the known Republicans.

Me: As someone who participated in the campaign of 2000, as well as that of 2004, what differences do you notice, specifically regarding the GOTV effort? I’m assuming the 2002 GOTV effort you refer to was not something we had in 2000.

Source: What changed was the way we used the tools we are were familiar with.

We try to keep some of our differences within the party. There’s going to be some bleeding, because there will always be turncoats. All of our meetings are public. There are no closed door official meetings.

Me: I have observations from someone on the ground in Ohio [these Ohio questions are verbatim quotes from posts by Free Republic's Common Tator, a person who over many years has proven himself very insightful to me - ed.]. I want your reaction to how this applies to Minnesota. Is it totally different? Totally the same? I just want to get your reaction to it.

First, regarding the Republican registration effort, here’s the statement from the campaign worker in Ohio:

“Republican volunteers filled out registration forms for new voters... then have the new voter sign it. It was then turned in to the local Republican headquarters. Another volunteer staffer contacted the new voter to confirm that it is a real person and the data is correct. The completed form is then checked by a third volunteer to make sure the name and address are valid. It is then sent to the board of elections for processing. The new voter is sent a confirmation that they have been registered. We then check to make sure the notification is not returned as an undeliverable address. The person is then called to confirm their registration. During the final 72 hours they will be contacted once again to urge them to vote. They will be offered transportation to the polls and thanked for supporting President Bush.”

Source: Similar. Every state has its own laws. Each municipality has its own slant within those laws.

Basically it’s similar, except that within Minnesota, everything has been computerized.

Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, in her terms in office has been just excellent in fine-tuning the process. Before her, Joan Growe, DFL, also was very good. Joan made no missteps except as she became more and more hardline on other issues. More party-line.

As far as recruiting registrations, this can be done by anyone. A similar process is used by an individual who wants to register themself. If the party does it – and we do it – Doug [not the same Doug – ed.] and some of his cohorts sat out there on the shores of Lake Calhoun registering voters in August. It’s the involvement that’s needed. And it doesn’t make any difference what party they are. It’s the quantity of voters that makes it the most democratic process. That, combined with the fact that it’s the Republicans who are hardest to get to the polls.

In ’99 when my wife ran for school board, she didn’t make it past the primary. Only 1 in 20 Republican voters bothered to vote, citywide. If 2 out of 20 had voted, she would have been on the general ballot. We’re talking registered voters. This is why the GOTV thing is so important.

Beyond that, we don’t do any of the verification ourselves, because like I mentioned, everything is computerized. Everything can be verified with a few clicks of the mouse. The registration card is filled out; goes to, in our case, Hennepin County. Hennepin County verifies and reports to the Secretary of State’s office, and the municipality; in this case Minneapolis. It ends up at City Hall.

Beyond that, the follow-up is done by the parties. Registered voters lists are available at all times to all parties. We know who the new registrants are. This year we know it within days. And they are contacted to make sure they actually vote. Do you need an absentee ballot? Do you need a ride?

Part of the 72 hour task force, with the three days leading up to, and election day itself, anyone who needs a ride anywhere for whatever purpose, leading up to and including election, has got it.

And more direct involvement is encouraged: to hold a campaign sign at a busy intersection,To talk to their neighbors, To get on the phone and call their friends and relatives. Make sure that they’re voting.

Some precincts, both the Democrats and Republicans will park a car at least 100 feet from the polling place, and offer coffee at 6:30 in the morning for people who are there to vote. And they’ll set a political sign there, as long as they’re far enough away from the polls, so they know who’s offering that coffee. And people from all parties will come in to take advantage. Especially when it is a chilly morning, as November mornings in Minnesota tend to be.

Me: Regarding the Democratic registration effort... We’ve heard that groups like ACORN are largely running the volunteer effort for the Democrats this year. Here’s another observation from Ohio I’d like you to respond to:

“Compare that to Democrats hiring people at 10 bucks per registrant to register voters. A huge percentage of those registered are invalid. Just names and addresses turned in to get the 10 bucks each. Lots of them will not vote, many are fake names and addresses and many who do try to vote from fake names and/or addresses will be challenged and not allowed to vote.”

Source: There’s generally a set pattern nationally. And locally it follows a similar pattern.

Yes, a lot of the [Democratic] volunteers are paid. They expect this because this has become a tradition for them. This goes back to the days when they owned Washington, and owned our cities. This is becoming less and less the case, as people are waking up and becoming more politically astute.

Scott: Paid? Volunteers getting paid? [Scott has been putting in a whole lot of unpaid hours on the Republican side this year. He couldn’t let that one pass unremarked. – ed.]

Source: It’s becoming less pronounced.

There are two things that they do that we [Republicans] do not do. One is… I call it “inciting the mob.” They will find the hot button issues to inflame the emotions. To make it a militant mob… often times violent.

Scott: The draft is a good example, right?

Source: Good example, yeah. It’s a flat-out lie. And it incites the mob. And the mob no longer thinks rationally. That’s what they want. It’s a political technique. I may find it abhorrent personally. But it’s effective. We don’t do it. We have always respected the intelligence of the people who vote. And as a result we have come in second in that regard. Both in quantity of volunteers, but also in voter turnout. Because we don’t incite in that way. We incite on the issues, in that we put a spin of some kind on the truth. But it’s still the truth. We don’t pull things out of the air.

The other main difference is that the local campaign effort is governed from the very top. And the top is not the DNC. The top is a smoke-filled room. Therefore, now that the voters in general are more astute, they can see the Democratic Party constantly walking into walls. Because that smoke-filled room is so far removed that it has lost touch with the 21st century realities of human existence. It’s based on things that were true for Roosevelt, Carter, and Johnson.

Me: Here’s another Ohio observation to respond to:

“It takes 50 calls to register one person. We felt we were not doing well. When we asked Bush staffers what we were doing wrong... they said, ‘You are doing great. We hope for one out of 50 calls. That is the goal.. Most don't reach it. You guys are... congratulations.’ Some of those hired to register Democrats are registering up to 100 people a day. They would have to make 5,000 calls to register 100 people in a day. UHH HUHHH Right!!!”

Are we seeing that kind of thing in Minnesota as well?

Source: Yes. That figure holds fairly true nationally. Last weekend we covered almost 9,000 calls. All volunteer. None of them paid. That’s the way it’s done.

It’s one of the less glamorous aspects of the campaign. That’s true.

Success ratio is a little better for GOTV. Much better actually. Because you’re calling people, reminding them. Now remember, you promised to vote. You’re registered now. Did you get your absentee ballot in the mail after you applied for it? Did your registration go through? Did you get your card? Well it’s too late for postcards to be mailed out now.

Yeah, the telephone calls basically go on year around. When there isn’t an election imminent, the calls are basically for fund-raising; for special events; for community awareness.

Me: On getting New Voters to the Polls, again an observation from Ohio

“The question we are asking is how can the Democrats get fake people to the polls? The fact is they can't. And the fake voters would have to be able to match the fake original signatures. They can't.”

Are we more confident in our registrations compared to the DFL in Minnesota?

Source: It’s a real problem. I was election judge for a number of years. And I became a chair judge, responsible for the whole precinct. Then they sent me to various other precincts, other than my own. Because as peoples’ awareness grew of my involvement and my effectiveness, they started putting me where I’d do the least damage.

Minneapolis elections, for the last 30 years, have been controlled by the Democrats. And they stack the judges. They give them special training on how to manipulate. They go to the nursing homes, convalescent homes, halfway houses. The people are not mobile. If they’re conscious, they can make an X. If they get them to sign a ballot, they fill it out however they want to.

They will go to a halfway house, or housing for special needs people. And will pile them into a van. And if it’s a chemical dependency orientation of the people, they’ll offer them cigarettes if they’ll vote for certain names. In the case of mental and emotional challenges, they’ll offer them whatever flies. They’ll stop at Burger King or McDonald’s on the way home if they remember certain names to vote for.

It’s terribly difficult to screen when out of 7 judges, you’re the only Republican. State law requires no party to have a majority.

Me: Isn’t the GOP suing to enforce that law this election?

Source: Guess where they found out about it? Minnesota. Minneapolis. We started screaming 6 years ago.

Scott: Is the law that it has to be 50/50, with a differential of 1 elector?

Source: One judge minimum. It can be 40/40 with 20 percent being independent. And so on. But no one part can have a majority of judges.

Me: Another Ohio observation:

“Poll watchers will be armed with lists of voters to be challenged. When a suspicious voter (one on the list) shows up they are to be challenged. As you know the presiding judge in each precinct will be a republican [Ohio law requires the presiding judge to match the party of the governor -ed.]. The presiding judge will then rule if the person can vote or not. If the judgment is against us then the local attorney representing the campaign will be called and a volunteer lawyer will be dispatched to handle the situation.”

Do we have anything like that in Minnesota?

Source: No, and I’ll tell you why. The first time we used poll watchers… we call them poll challengers…. was in 2002. 18 lawsuits were initiated. Every one of them was dismissed, because by state law it all had to go through the State Attorney General… Mike Hatch, DFL [Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, which is Minnesota's Democratic Party affiliate - ed.]. He dismissed every case.

Washington has been watching what has happened in Minnesota. We haven’t gone for the Republican candidate for president since 1972. In 2000 we came within 2 points. In 2002 we elected a Republican governor and Republican Senator. 57,000 votes were the difference in 2000.

How do we avoid the pitfalls? We can’t go around the DFL Attorney General. What we can do is get people on this thing that are not local, but national.

As a result 2 things are taking place.

Number 1, the Republican National Committee has hired 600 lawyers nationally, working for the Republican National Committee to file suits wherever there is an infraction. The RNC has also filed suits in Minnesota, Ohio, New Mexico, Florida – I think those four – in anticipation. Be on your toes people. We’re all over this shit. Here are the lawsuits already in the works.

In Minnesota they went after Hennepin County, Ramsey County, and Ohlmstead County, for that very thing.

In Minneapolis, as chair election judges, we were trained to compensate for the lack of balance by saying to the judges, before the polls opened, “today you’re a Republican, you’re a Republican, and you’re a Republican. So we’ll be balanced.”

And the mantra has always been, because we just don’t have enough Republicans who want to be election judges. I told Mary [Kiffmeyer, the Republican Secretary of State in Minnesota – ed.] that right after she was elected [in 2002 – ed.]. In a matter of months, she’d come up with 800 new Republican judges. And the push has been nonstop since then. So there is an adequate supply.

Hennepin County and Ramsey County are the ones that we had documentation on. In Ohlmstead County, which is basically Republican, the problem switched around and it was the DFL that filed the suit there. Ok, you’re going to come after us? We’re going to come after you. Ok, fine. Let’s have it fair across the board.

Scott: Is there more cheating going on in the heart of the Democratic territory? I’m going to be judging at [a heavy DFL place] on Election Day. Am I going to have my hands full?

Source: No you aren’t, because that’s my precinct. I judged there for many years, and I was the chair judge there for two years. I know everybody in there.

Scott: So you’re judging with me that day?

Source: They haven’t asked me to be a judge for three years.

Scott: What should I pay attention to when I’m there?

Source: Registration! Registration!

We do have vans pull up with retarded, blind, deaf. The chair judge is excellent, but she’s very old. She’s a dear friend.

The vans that pull up, you’ll see it inside. They’ll file in and they’ll need help. There has to be a Republican and Democrat helping them if they need assistance. The blind will need names read to them. And it needs to be done with a lack of inflection in the voice, in the order they appear on the ballot. You can’t put all the DFL first. You can’t encourage them with voice inflection. This is something to watch for. Because without our presence, the DFL will do it.

Scott: What other than my presence alone will pre-empt cheating?

Source: You should have a poll challenger there too. The challenger cannot interplay or question an election judge. But they can challenge the voter. Especially in registration. Do you have a driver’s license? Oh, you left it at home. So do you have a current utility bill from your current address? Do you have someone to vouch for you? Someone will step forward who vouched for three people already. No, no. You vouch for one person, and you’re done for the day. That’s it.

But he talks only to the voters. Only to the citizens. He cannot question an election judge. He cannot question the chair judge. He cannot even bring anything to the chair judge’s attention. What you do is call a lawyer.

Me: And we have them for every precinct? Or just the ones we’re concerned about?

Source: There will probably be 2 or 3 phone numbers. They’ll be on relay. And somebody will grab it. As an election judge you can’t do that, but the poll challenger can. They are certified by the party or by the campaign, either one. Or by any organization for that matter. There can be any number of challengers. But they must be certified.

Me: Will there be poll challengers in every precinct?

Source: That’s what we’re shooting for. I think we’ve got it covered. We did in 2002. We had every precinct covered.

Scott: How are the challengers trained?

Source: This year by the RNC. One of my people came up with 3 documents. One of them is a manual, a short manual. And a couple of specific blurb sheets. And they should all have copies of the election judge manual. Even the election judges don’t get these. They come out of Mary’s office. At least that’s been my recommendation to [campaign official].

Beyond that, we learned in 2002 how effective this is.

Me: What observation did you make in 2002? What did you learn?

Source: That we made the DFL judges and chair judges, and their Minneapolis election HQ… we gave them ulcers. And you don’t get that upset if your conscience is clean.

Me: Comparing polling in 2000, 2002, and 2004, here is an observation from Hugh Hewitt I’d like you to respond to:

“… the turnout models drive the polls, and these models are guesses built upon voting data from before 9/11 which may be further corrupted by the resistance of subgroups to accurate sampling. … In three Senate races in 2002 --in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Colorado, all states figuring heavily in this year's presidential contest-- pollsters, including Zogby, underestimated the Republican vote by 9, 8, and 8 points respectively”

Source: We pay attention to the external polling, in that that will often times drive voters. However we use it directly converse to popular opinion. The worse our candidate appears to be doing, the better it is for our volunteers to motivate them. Now see we’re down 2 points, we’ve got to work harder. Get some friends to help you.

Me: There must be some tipping point though where they get dispirited and don’t want to help anymore.

Source: No, because by that time it has become a matter of pride, of personal opinion, and putting their principles and values where their time is.

Volunteers are going to be very faithful if they’re sincere to begin with. You’ll always have a few volunteers who are anxious to ride a winning wagon. And as in sports this is very transitory. But the core of your volunteers are going to be with you to the end; be it bitter or celebratory.

Internal polls are what count with us. There is secrecy on those because we spend a lot of time with rallies and positive themes to the volunteers and to the voting public. You see how often Republicans from Washington… Bush, Cheney, Laura…. are here. They practically live here. I’ve reached the point I don’t even bother going to these any more.

It takes on a sameness where every campaign has the same elements.

Scott: Every campaign has the same elements? Do you really want to say that?

Source: Yep. Because aside from the personality of the person who’s running, the process is identical.

Now a lot of it depends on your personal relationship with that campaign and that candidate.

For example in 2002. Tim is a long time personal friend. He has spent more time in the party room than most of our executive committee. So I went to almost everything he had going during that campaign. Simply because I wanted Tim to know that I was at his side as often as I could be. Whenever he needed me, for whatever reason. That’s what friends are for. Personal ones.

Brian Sullivan [lost the Republican nomination for Minnesota governor to Pawlenty - ed.] and I are friends too. And it was kind of hard that year. But I told Brian early on, in March, I told him in the party room one on one, if Tim decides to run I’m going to be supporting him. That’s not going to change my friendship and respect for you, or best wishes for your campaign. But if Tim runs he’s got me. And I had to explain why.

The floor of the convention, come 2:30 in the morning. 12th ballot. Tim comes walking by our delegation. I grab him by the shoulders and said, Tim take a deep breath. Get a drink of water. We’re going to win this for you. Be confident. We’re going to do this for you. He looked at me, gave me a big hug, and said thank you I needed that. He no sooner got out into the hall to get that drink then the convention voted not to do a 13th ballot. Brian conceded.

Me: Are there differences in how the campaign is focusing on turning out the base, versus targeting swing voters? Is there a change?

Source: No. Basically they’re treated the same. When it comes to crunch time, the door knocking will be geared primarily to swing.

A list of targeted precincts was submitted, and this coincides perfectly with my list. We have in Minnesota something that’s the envy of the country in the Republican Party, called Mastermind. It’s a database that is [very] extensive. Everything from snowmobile ownership, to pro-life or pro-choice, fishing habits, if you own a hunting rifle… unbelievable…. date of birth, last time you changed your registration address, how much your house cost. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And using that list, the targeted precincts the last 72 hours are based on the number of swing voters per precinct.

Me: Why are you so confident that swing voters will vote for Bush?

Source: We don’t know.

When I say swing voters, I don’t mean just any swing voters. It’s those we categorize in Mastermind as 2’s or 3’s. The 3’s are people who say I vote for the person. I vote for the issues. Party makes no difference. The 2’s are people who say I usually vote for Republicans. But it depends on the people involved. Those who say that I usually vote Democrat, but I’d vote for a Republican are at a lower level of importance than our regular voters. And these we call “strong GOP.” [Local Bush campaign official] says “hard GOP.” Same thing.

Me: Did Congressional redistricting affect campaign strategy?

Source: It realigned the concentration of Bush voters for one thing.

There has been gerrymandering. It doesn’t affect the presidential election. But it will certainly affect the House races. They’re the ones that did the gerrymandering.

Me: Does having a Republican governor in office affect the campaign?

Source Yes. In two ways.

Number one, it helps enthuse the Republican base. We’ve got [Minnesota Governor] Tim [Pawlenty] and [U. S. Senator] Norm [Coleman] in office. We did it before, we can do it again.

Secondly, Tim governs from a moderate position. Extraordinarily fair and genuine as a person. He’s the same in person at a bowling alley as what you see on television. At the same time, he stands behind Republican positions. All his commissioners are Republicans. So that he has a subtle yet personable control over everything in the state. Aside from himself, he’s backed by Mary [Kiffmeyer – the Republican Minnesota Secretary of State – ed.], by Patty Anderson [Republican Minnesota State Auditor – ed.].

And then there’s Mike Hatch, who wants Tim’s job. And it makes for a beautiful interplay, because Hatch can’t attack Tim too overtly or he blows the comparison when he runs against him. Or he’s the mean guy. He’s the sorehead.

Me: Personal feelings on Bush’s chances in Minnesota this election? Acceptable to say you’re optimistic?

Source: Yeah!


Blogger pinkmonkeybird said...

Nice post, Doug. Thanks for doing all the work while I drank beer.
Just to clarify, I am perfectly happy being unpaid for my vol. service. The party can use that money to pay for more campaigning.
Our Deep Throat stated that he has not been an election judge for three years. That's probably why one thing he said is incorrect;

"Someone will step forward who vouched for three people already. No, no. You vouch for one person, and you’re done for the day. That’s it."

No longer true as it once was.

From the City's literature;

"A voucher may vouch for an unlimited number of persons."

In fact, this point drew quite a bit of concern at the GOP Poll Challanger seminar I recently attended.

My favorite part of Deep Throat's interview was the part where he said we will be giving the DFL ulcers. And that's why I was surprized to hear him say that all campaigns are the same elements. Yes, when you're attending a rally.
This campaign is the sexiest one ever to be held in Minnesota because of its intense grassroots nature. The presidential election could even be decided here. If so, the results would flow directly out of the tactical applications on the grassroots level.

10:22 PM  
Blogger TFB said...

Fantastic work Doug!
As I have done volunteer phone calls, I have contemplated if it really made any kind of difference. Your interview shows that every bit of effort truly counts.
Astonishing...I had no idea the 72 hour crunch had roots here in MN.
Thanks so much for putting time into this!

12:11 AM  

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