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WISE: Republicans lost the ground game

Turnout, not TV ads, made the difference in 2012

The Monday morning quarterbacking has already begun over the makeup of the Republican Party. Brace yourself for calls to "moderate" or become more "inclusive" and endless explanations for why the GOP lost one demographic or another.

Make no mistake: President Obama's reelection was a victory for a campaign, not a candidate.

The reality is that the strategies for effective campaigning have changed, and the Republican Party has, so far, stubbornly refused to embrace the tactics that have led to victory for the other side on a national level.

Mr. Obama's victory, by any measure, was improbable. Economic indicators such as chronically high unemployment and stagnant growth should have prevented his re-election when pitted against a competent challenger. Mitt Romney's record of effective governance and experience as an executive seemed ideally suited for such a time as this.

The president won, not based on the strength of his record (weak), his agenda (more of the same), or because of the shifting priorities of a nation (jobs and the economy are still number one). He won because of the misallocation of resources by Republican donors, party committees, and third party groups.

Democrats have for 16 years excelled at voter mobilization and voter turnout. As a party they embraced technological advances and social media much more quickly and effectively, and have been buoyed by longtime allies such as labor unions that have mastered community organizing and get-out-the-vote tactics. Democratic voter mobilization in urban and suburban areas and their ability to turn out targeted demographics helped propel the president to a second term.

Meanwhile, GOP committees and political organizations focused most of their bandwidth in 2012 on raising tens of millions of dollars to spend on massive ad campaigns that most voters tuned out.

Why do GOP groups spend so much money on ads? The same reason people rob banks: That's where the money is. Campaign consultants are traditionally paid for their services based on commission from advertising buys. Consultants, therefore, have an incentive to recommend to their candidate, committee or organization that resources be spent on ad campaigns that require less work, are more "sexy" to donors, and will lead to more money in the consultants' pockets.

The result is what we saw: Rather than beef up the GOP ground game to match the Obama machine, the vast majority of money raised during the 2012 election cycle was used to inundate the airwaves with ads.

When Republican groups embrace and invest in voter turnout strategies, as they did in Wisconsin during the recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker, they win. But until the GOP embraces these tactics on a national basis with the support of the RNC, NRSC and NRCC, they will continue to see long faces at "victory" parties and diminished power throughout government.

The majority of Americans support conservative ideas. The Republican Party has to make it easy to vote Republican. This will only happen when party donors accept that ad campaigns must be complemented by equal or greater investment in micro-targeted votermobilization campaigns and support organizations that execute those campaigns.

Brian J. Wise is a political strategist, managing partner of Wise Public Affairs and the Executive Director of Reclaiming Freedom PAC.

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