After reading Alexander’s description of the Obama campaign’s ground game efforts in the 2008 election, I decided to research those of the Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Kay Hagan is running for reelection, but is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the United States. Thom Tillis, current Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, is running against her.
Kay Hagan and other Democratic Senate races in the United States are “data-driven and focused on the ground game” (Parker), as they attempt to keep a Democratic majority in the US Senate. Thom Tillis’ campaign has also organized some ground game efforts, attempting to win a Republican majority in the Senate and control both houses of Congress.
First, I will look at Hagan’s get-the-vote-out efforts. For Hagan, it appears that the ground game is more important, as those more likely to vote for her (minorities, young people and women) are less likely to vote in midterm elections. “The drop-off for the Democratic nominee between a presidential election year and the mid-term was half,” while the drop-off rate for Republicans was around a quarter (Geary).
These trends are nationwide and the data have led the Democratic Senatorial Committee to launch campaigns in ten states with close Senatorial races. “Each state team will be required to come up with a ‘strategic plan,’ complete with a budget and data-mapping program” (Parker) that must be approved by someone at the national level. One step in Hagan’s plan has been focusing on urban areas where the demographics that drop off during midterm elections are more likely to live. Her campaign recently created the group African Americans for Kay, an organization dedicated to getting African Americans involved in her campaign at a grassroots level. The campaign also recently launched the Week of Action at college campuses across the state, ensuring that volunteers are present to correctly educate and register students to vote. The campaign is also focusing on getting Hagan herself to campaign offices throughout the state to motivate volunteers directly. Having her physical presence at offices reminds staff and volunteers of the reasons they have for joining the campaign, a critical motivator that Alexander points out in his ethnography of the Obama campaign in Denver. Additionally, a video is posted of Hagan motivating volunteers at campaign offices on various social media platforms. This aspect of the campaign is what Alexander refers to as the digital ground game. This “terminal-to-terminal engagement” allows Hagan to motivate viewers even though they are not physically at the offices.
Thom Tillis’ campaign has also involved the ground game, in a Republican attempt to win both houses of Congress. Those likely to vote for Tillis are also more likely to go to the polls in midterm elections, meaning the ground game may be less essential (Indy Week). However, in the primary election, Tillis beat a Tea Party candidate, a win for the GOP establishment. This may have alienated some Tea Party voters that he will need in the November election.
Coverage of Tillis’ ground game has been less extensive than that of Hagan’s, but it appears that his get-the-vote-out efforts have focused primarily on phone calls and door-to-door visits. I will focus on the motivational tactics, like those described in Alexander’s ethnography, that Tillis’ campaign used to mobilize an organized ground game. Throughout the primaries and in the race against Hagan, Tillis has been seen as the establishment GOP candidate, backed by prominent Republicans including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie. The campaign eventually brought several of these men to local campaign offices to motivate volunteers and speak directly with North Carolina citizens. Christie spoke in Wilmington, rallying Republicans with phrases like “I need you to get him over the finish line”, and working directly with volunteers at the campaign office to fundraise and make phone calls (News & Observer). Additionally, the campaign has attempted to reach out to Tea Party voters that they may have lost in the primaries. Rand Paul, who originally supported Tillis’ Tea Party primary opponent, just publically announced his support for Tillis and plans to visit campaign offices next week (May). These campaign office visits and motivational efforts appear to have worked, as one campaign office with only 100 volunteers made 60,000 phone calls and 20,000 door-to-door visits (Woolverton). Tillis’ campaign used popular Republicans to create the emotional energy that Alexander says is key to organizing field operations.
Polls from recent weeks consistently show Hagan leading the race, but not by much (Ladd). Because of the competitive nature of this election, as well as the reduced voter turnout of a midterm election, getting the vote out is especially important. Tillis has an advantage in that the GOP is more likely to turn out to the election, but his favorability ratings are not high. Hagan’s campaign is aware of the demographics that are unlikely to go to the polls, and it has been focusing the campaign on them. If her campaign can get the necessary demographics to turn out, it seems likely that she can defeat the establishment of Thom Tillis.
Geary, Bob. “Did Thom Tillis Just Wreck His Senate Bid by Opposing a Minimum Wage?” Indy Week. 14 May 2014. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
Ladd, Susan. “Inside Scoop: PPP Poll Shows Hagan Leading Tillis.” News-Record.com. 21 Sept. 2014. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
May, Caroline. “Rand Paul to Campaign With Kay Hagan Opponent Thom Tillis.” Breitbart News Network. Breitbart, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Parker, Ashley. “Democrats Aim for a 2014 More Like 2012 and 2008.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
“NewsObserver.com.” Gov. Chris Christie Campaigns with Thom Tillis in Wilmington. 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.
Woolverton, Paul. “Turnout Key and Stakes High in U.S. Senate Race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis.” Fayobserver.com. 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.