- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Soccer moms and NASCAR dads, meet the snowmobile voters.

In past campaigns, political candidates sought to win over relatively large groups of voters: minivan-driving “soccer moms” in 1996 or blue-collar “NASCAR dads” in 2004 as political insiders nicknamed them.

Thanks to state-of-the-art marketing techniques, 2006 could turn out to be the year of the snowmobile owner, the Home Depot shopper or the Forbes magazine reader.

Republicans and Democrats have compiled hundreds of data points, from voting history to church membership to TV viewing habits, to create detailed profiles of U.S. voters.

Such “microtargeting” could provide the crucial edge in an election when control of Congress hangs in the balance.

Party officials say microtargeting enables them to find supporters among groups they previously would have ignored.

The technique also can identify those who need extra encouragement to turn out in a year when the White House is not at stake. These crucial votes could mean the difference between defeat and victory in dozens of races across the country.

Michigan Republicans are targeting snowmobile owners in their effort to defeat Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat who vetoed a snowmobile trail last year.

They also are campaigning for the first time since 1962 in Detroit, a Democratic stronghold, where they have identified 44,000 black voters who oppose same-sex “marriage” and abortion.

Opinion surveys, gathered door to door or over the telephone, allow candidates to fine-tune their message to groups as small as 200 voters and court them with mailings, phone calls and visits.

“If you can find out who are fishermen or hunters or snowmobilers, there’s value to it. Then you add the fact that some have a college education, some don’t, you can find out people who smoke and people who don’t,” said Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis. “And then politically you have to go through extensive polling to take advantage of these models.”

Microtargeting was a crucial element in President Bush’s 2004 re-election, said Ken Mehlman, who served as the Bush campaign manager.

Democrats in 2004 were hobbled by faulty data and inadequate technology. A creaky Web interface prevented volunteers in the hotly contested state of Ohio from printing out “walk lists” of households they planned to contact one day before the election.

Democrats said they have closed the technology gap since then with a state-of-the-art database and training for officials who want to use it.

Many in the party are skeptical about the benefits of microtargeting, arguing that supporters can be identified by basic traits, such as the neighborhood where they live and whether they attend church regularly.

“People out-coach themselves with these techniques. … I enjoy a glass of whiskey, and I’m the most partisan Democrat alive in America,” said Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Farrell, referring to a habit that supposedly indicates a Republican tilt.

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