Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): Where We Went Wrong

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Where We Went Wrong

There aren't many conservative winners after Tuesday's slaughter, but a few managed to squeak through to the general election. Conservatives were ALWAYS going to lose seats in this cycle, for a few reasons:

1. Conservatives held a record number of seats. There was absolutely no room for error at all, and a large swath of conservatives decided to step aside. This may have been a blessing. Anti-incumbency was a thing, I think, but historically, in tight districts incumbents have an advantage.

2. This was year six of a two-term, term-limited conservative Governor. Historically, year six is difficult for the incumbent party. We shouldn't have been caught quite so off-guard.

There are things conservatives could have done to better our chances. I think a lot of conservative incumbents were on auto-pilot. The Chamber was dumping money into their races, Club for Growth was sending mailers, and I think they thought after handing over the keys during the hostage negotiations special session, they had averted a crisis. Conservatives underestimated the liberals, dramatically. We got a bit cocky.

Arrogance can be displayed in a myriad of ways, and one of those ways is simply coasting. I'm not suggesting conservatives should have attended those laughable "debates" or "forums" hosted by organizations hostile to them, but I am saying a lot of conservatives didn't take as many opportunities as they could have to engage voters. I'm talking Chamber forums, those meetings of grassroots organizations, there were opportunities to meet with those folks regularly and if nothing else, rally the grassroots. This is one way I think Calvin Hayden excelled. He went to every possible meeting. He shook a lot of hands and kissed a lot of babies, and you know, I don't think I received a single mailer on his behalf.

Now about all of those mailers: We went too far. Way, way too far. My mailbox was accosted with mailers, and I don't live in a very competitive district. The more conservative candidate won, despite being outspent by buckets, more than 3 to 1. I will note that both so-calleds and actual conservatives seemed super guilty of mailbox attack. (Special interest groups also sent tons of mailers, and Kevin Yoder. K. Yo, like a mailer a day. Too much, man.) 

I'm actually mildly interested in that kind of thing, and by the 10th day or so of 8 million campaign postcards, I was circular filing them. (It didn't help that some of the special interest groups sent mailers that played a little hard and loose with the facts. Don't ask me which ones; I tossed them. I'm a terrible person.) 

Those mailers gave candidates a sense of complacency, I think. They thought, well, I have a mailer going out about school funding or whatever tomorrow, that will counter whatever happened in the news cycle yesterday. Um. No. 

I think the so-called mods learned a lesson from the Dems that we should have learned three cycles ago: Pay for a ground game. I don't just mean data. I mean pay actual people to walk neighborhoods, drop literature, and plan and organize volunteers to help. Find an intern or two, and put them to work every morning mapping out a precinct plan for the evening and finding volunteers to walk. And when the weather's bad, put the intern on the phone. (As an aside, um, Moran and K.Yo, some of the state reps and state senate candidates can't compete with you; maybe loan out your interns-- and please for the love of all things holy, please stop dressing your interns as if they're headed to a pinning ceremony at the local fraternity house. I can't even, K.Yo. I can't.)

Finally, it's impossible for grassroots folks to get engaged and excited when it appears the candidates themselves have checked out. I'll walk neighborhoods. I pretty much cleared my schedule on most Saturdays leading up to the primary planning to. In past cycles, tons of folks sent me Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls asking if I could walk on the dates they were walking. This session, that didn't happen from very many campaigns. I was available at least part of every Saturday, but two, for the last 8 weeks. One of those Saturdays, I didn't walk, because no one asked. And I don't mean a pretentious groveling phone call ask, I mean a Facebook message or an email--even one from an intern. 

This cycle, those small changes probably wouldn't have saved some candidates. It was just going to be one of those cycles, but it may have gotten others over the top. 

The general election is looking like it might be a bloody affair also. The House Dems (fools!) published a list of their top 15 targets. I am not sure how or if their plans have changed in the face of what occurred on Tuesday, but let's not let them alone learn the lessons we should have.

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