- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2015

A new nonprofit is hoping to rev up motor sports fans to participate in campaigns and elections, seeking partnerships with racing giants like NASCAR and support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an effort that political strategists say could increase GOP voter turnout.

The campaign, called “Rev the Vote,” originally launched during the 2014 election cycle as a nonpartisan campaign to engage a passionate racing fan base in the political arena. The campaign, modeled after MTV’s hugely successful “Rock the Vote” effort, partnered with the Chamber to connect race fans with easy-to-use voter tools in their home states.

Although the campaign never made it across the finish line in the last cycle, organizers are gearing up for an even bigger launch this year and have already recruited two former congressmen — Reps. Connie Mack of Florida, a Republican, and Democrat Heath Shuler of North Carolina — for the board of directors.

“Racing fans need to be heard as loudly on Election Day as they are on Race Day — and RTV’s vision is to inform them about the critical role they can have in our political process and turn their focus from the pole at the track to the polls on election day,” said a “Rev the Vote” information sheet obtained by The Washington Times.

Mr. Shuler, an All-American quarterback at the University of Tennessee and a first-round pick of the Washington Redskins, said he is “honored to support Rev the Vote.”

“Race fans are some of the most passionate sports fans in the United States, and I would like to see more of them take an active role in our political process as well. At its core, Rev the Vote is an organization committed to registering, educating and turning out these fans on election day, just like race day,” he said in a recent statement.

And, in an email to The Times, Mr. Mack said, “Motorsports fans represent a broad cross-section of America, and I’m confident that Rev the Vote can play a real role in bringing them back into the voting booth.”

Political strategists say that, if successful, “Rev the Vote” could make a difference in swing states like Florida, targeting a mostly conservative motor sports fan base in a state where Republican voters stayed at home in the last presidential election.

“If they rev it up within the next 90 days and constantly keep it going, it definitely could have an effect in 2016,” said Jeffrey Corey, a managing partner of the TriCoast Group political consulting firm.

The Chamber of Commerce partnered with “Rev the Vote” in 2014 and supplied its own online voter registration portal for the effort.

When asked whether the Chamber would partner with “Rev the Vote” again in 2016, a spokeswoman told The Times that the Chamber was working on the 2016 initiative but wasn’t ready to announce anything “quite yet.”

Joe Fuld, president of Washington-based Democratic consulting firm The Campaign Workshop, said it was highly likely the Chamber would want to put its full weight behind “Rev the Vote” to reach Southern conservatives.

“I wouldn’t put it past the Chamber to put a lot of resources into this to up turnout,” Mr. Fuld said.

A spokesman for NASCAR told The Times that the company did not have an official partnership with the campaign but is looking into the “Rev the Vote” initiative.

“Rev the Vote” aims to target a block of disengaged voters in the same way that “Rock the Vote” successfully engaged millennials in the political process via marketing and celebrity branding.

Over 25 years, “Rock the Vote” has registered over 6 million new voters, according to the campaign’s website.

“Rev the Vote” has the potential to do the same by tapping into a huge fan base. NASCAR alone has over 75 million fans, but “Rev the Vote” will also target other motor sports fans, from motocross to speedboat and go-kart racing. And most of those millions of fans lean conservative, political experts say.

“I think that, in concept, there is a need to go engage folks who are sort of left out of the political process. If you look at the past couple of election cycles, folks who are [in] a NASCAR or racing demographic have traditional and family values. They haven’t been represented well in the Republican Party,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

But the campaign’s success will depend on its authenticity, according to Mr. Holler, who said that motor sports fans might not be swayed by an effort that is so closely tied to Washington and the Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the criticisms from the last presidential cycle was that a lot of good conservative voters stayed home, and the thinking is they were totally unenthused by the Romney candidacy,” Mr. Holler said. “An effort to get these people to turn out could be good over the long term, but it needs to be authentic. It can’t be a veneer for what is basically an effort to continue the Washington status quo.”

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