I asked my husband, ‘Why do consultants who worked for failed campaigns seem to have no problems in getting new customers?’ His answer: ‘Because it’s always the candidate’s fault that they lost.’ It’s something New Jersey Governor Chris Christie should keep in mind as he starts to splash big bucks for his expected 2016 presidential run.
I also think as the Governor considers his contractor options, he should review that famous “Simple Game” clip from the 1988 movie, Bull Durham. But more on that later.
Sunday’s New York Times reported that Christie’s political operation has contracted with a Republican-leaning data analysis group (which includes the 2012 Romney campaign’s chief data analyst).
Let’s be generous and say the Romney campaign had good data – but what did they do with it? Remember, the ultimate point of a data operation is to capture more votes than the opponent does. If it doesn’t do that, it’s a failure.
I was in suburban Columbus, Ohio during the final days of last year’s campaign, and I saw no evidence of the use of data by the Romney team. However, I did see how Barack Obama‘s campaign used its data very effectively.
First example: I chatted with a twenty-something HVAC man (he was wearing his work coveralls) who said he liked Romney but … Somehow the Obama campaign inserted that ‘but’ into his thinking. Mr. HVAC’s ‘but’ had to do with concerns that Romney would ramp up military operations that were too costly.
Rather, Mr. HVAC was of a generation and socioeconomic class to have had friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps one of those friends was an Obama supporter? Whatever method they used, the Obama campaign found Mr. HVAC and got him to move from ‘leaning Romney’ to ‘leaning Obama’.
Second example: Very early on election day, Obama campaign workers put oversized bright blue post-its on targeted doors (so residents would have to peel them off as they left for work). But these were more than simple reminders to vote, they were very site-specific. As in, ‘President Obama needs your vote TODAY. Your polling place is Smith Middle School [address], and it’s open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you have any questions or need help voting, call us at [local phone number].’
Over at the Romney campaign, they lacked similar election day material and information. Romney workers calling voters had to refer those who were unsure of their polling place to the Board of Elections (which gave the voter an instant excuse not to vote -- too much bother). The local workers did not have specific polling place information tied to individual voter contacts. And there was no equivalent to those detailed Obama post-its.
All these deficiencies (and more) occurred in a ‘must-win’ state despite the Romney campaign’s multi-million dollar expenditure on data analysis, micro-targeting, etc.
So what should Christie do? I suggest he make his contractors adhere to the famous ‘Simple Game’ concept from the baseball film Bull Durham. The angry coach faces his losing team and shouts, “This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.”
Mr. Christie, electoral politics is also simple game: the winner gets more votes than the other guy. Will your consultants help you throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball? Do they know how to do that? If they don’t, then you’ve paid lots of money for (to use the coach’s term) mere lollygaggers. And who needs lollygaggers?
Joanne Butler is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former professional Republican staff member at the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.