Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Rep Slice and Dice Advantage

When I first started working campaigns, part of the thrill was the giant disparity between Rep and Dem funding. The interest income from the Rep warchest was what the Dems hoped to get. The Dems had 1/12 of the funds that the Reps had.

So the Dems used technology to counter the Reps money. The Dems invented micro-targeting versus the Reps blanketing. The Dems developed and coded sliceable databases while the Reps advertised to everyone, blanketing whole areas with their materials and TV.

Often the latter paid off: in California the Reps mailed every Rep household and asked whether the recipients wanted to vote absentee. This was the first time that anyone took advantage of the loophole that you didn't have to be out of the country or state to vote absentee. The result was that a dull Governor won over a popular Black candidate who actually won the non-absentee vote.

But things changed then as they have now. Dems picked up the bandwagon on absentee voting and the machinery to solicit and then advertise this group of voters. The absentee vote now breaks evenly in most areas although it is continually growing because of its convenience.

The larger problem is that micro-targeting has become the ballywick of the Reps mainly because they have had the funds and organization to preserve the data from one election to the next and from all layers within the database -- from statewide to the smallest city/county office, board or commission. On the Dem side, each cycle has started fresh until Dean came into office. Now things are changing BUT it's going to take a few cycles before the database on the Dem side becomes as powerful and useful as the one on the Rep side. Two particular areas where Dems are behind is in poll results and contribution history. Every polled voter on the Rep side is in the database encoded with his or her answers. And every Rep donation is in there as well. Dems post this info from public and traded files each cycle but are missing the historical advantage that the Reps have.

As repugnant as Rove is in his public statements, this is his background and expertise: efficient and effective micro-targeting. This is where he started (developing the national, enhanced database) and this is his forte (using that enhanced data to target and concisely advertise thousands of very precise and meaningful messages to thousands of like-minded recipient groups).

And this election is where Rove's expertise is going to meet its first real challenge. I'm rooting for the Dems. But I'm naive.