There are three takeaways from yesterday’s special election in Florida, where an admittedly not-great Republican candidate — David Jolly, just divorced, with a much younger girlfriend in tow — won against a (seemingly) stronger female Democrat. The Republican won because of demographics, Medicare, and a strong data-driven ground game.
Florida’s 13th district is located within the Gulf Coast district of Pinellas County, which, according the 2014 Almanac of American Politics, is 87.3 percent white, with 52.7 percent of its population aged 45 or older.
Consequently, those television ads by the 501(c)(3) groups about Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare (Medicare Advantage plans, actually) were right on target. Not only are seniors worried about cuts to Medicare, they’re worried that someday Medicare itself will be replaced by Obamacare.
Currently these seniors can get their medical services in their neighborhood, or nearby – just a short drive or cab ride away. Among them, medical services are in high demand. As a result of their frequent visits, they form close relationships and a high level of trust with their medical professionals.
However, they also know President Obama’s promise that ‘you can keep your doctor’ under Obamacare is simply not true. It’s easy to imagine this population viewing President Obama as a threat to their relationships with familiar doctors and nurses. They don’t want to be told they have to abandon their neighborhood medical facility for one that’s miles away – and be treated by strangers.
[Back in 2012, when President Obama carried this district, I suspect this population was micro-targeted by his campaign with the message that Mitt Romney would privatize Medicare (via running mate Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher system). Lesson: the Medicare sword cuts both ways.]
Returning to yesterday’s election, while outside groups were running their television ads, the National Republican Congressional Committee was running a data-driven ground game. Kudos must go to NRCC head Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) who put together a great team of data analysts, who used their data to micro-target voters in the 13th district.
Apparently Walden paid close attention to RNC chairman Reince Prebius’ autopsy report on the 2012 election – especially the section on “Campaign Mechanics.” In that section (starting on page 24 of the report), ”Generating Better Data” is listed as the top priority.
Now Walden’s challenge is to expand the NRCC’s data-driven special election success to the upcoming November elections. In FL-13, the NRCC could turn out voters based upon concerns about Medicare. As we’ve seen, it was a powerful motivator for the people in that district.
In November, Walden and his team will have to be more nimble in order to help Republican candidates who will be running in districts with populations that are not 87 percent white and have a majority who are age 45 or older. But if yesterday is anything to go by, it seems Walden ‘gets it’ in terms of how the ground game has changed, and that’s a very good sign for the future.