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Will GOP Learn Its GOTV Lesson?

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat’s co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

We’ve heard very little about what went wrong on the record from top-level campaign staff. Today Romney’s political director Rich Beeson gave a very perplexing interview to National Review’s Katrina Trinko. He told Trinko, 

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit”? Really? The numbers the Romney campaign needed to hit were, as NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, the numbers needed to win. Republicans saw 1.4 million fewer votes in 2012 verses 2008. Granted, turnout for Obama was off by a far greater amount–7.7 million voters– yet if Romney had brought out the same number of voters as McCain did in 2008 we would be talking about a Romney victory, not a Romney defeat. Romney even drew fewer Mormon voters than George W. Bush did in 2004 (numbers for the 2008 race are unavailable). Romney staffers could point to several positive stories from their campaign, but turnout isn’t one of them. 

Beeson went on to defend not only ORCA in principle, but also in practice on Election Day:

Beeson contends that while Orca had its flaws on Election Day, it was a smart idea. “Did the overall system work the way that we wanted it to? No. But it is a good precursor for what I think we’ll want to be able to design and implement and improve on in coming elections? Absolutely,” he says.

With an election as close as Tuesday’s (NRO’s Jim Geraghty put the margin of victory at 407,000 votes between Romney and Obama in key swing states) what would have been a better use of resources? Should volunteers have been tracking voter turnout in order to get results to Boston a few hours before the networks would have, or should they have instead focused on traditional GOTV efforts like door knocks, transportation to polling locations, and calling undecided voters? 

Worryingly, it appears the Romney campaign and the consultants it hired refuse to admit that ORCA was a bad strategy in theory and in practice, and that they also hope to replicate it for future campaigns. Given the huge financial investment the campaign gave to the consultants responsible for the program, it’s understandable that its utter failure is an inconvenient detail for those who would like to try to sell the program all over again. For the GOP’s sake in 2014 and 2016 and beyond, one would hope that the track record not only of ORCA, but also of the consultants and firms responsible, don’t disappear down the memory hole. For that to happen, the creators of ORCA need to be exposed by the Romney campaign’s staff as a last service to future GOP candidates. 



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