Three Republican technicians share insights on historic 2010 election

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 07-Dec-2010

Seeking to understand both the political dynamic and the practical political operations that led to the historic 2010 election victories for Republicans in Oklahoma, CapitolBeatOK interviewed three key Republican leaders over the course of the last few weeks.

Matt Pinnell, the Grand Old Party’s state chairman, was quizzed about the main state party’s vision and plans. Also interviewed were Greg Treat and Pam Pollard, both experienced activists and key operatives at the Oklahoma Victory campaign led by Chairman Tom Coburn, the incumbent U.S. Senator who won overwhelming reelection on November 2.

Asked about techniques of communication, Pinnell told CapitolBeatOK, “Even in this election environment you still have to hit voters a number of times at different angles. Whether it was direct mail, live and recorded calls, or door-to-door outreach, the so-called ‘lazy Republicans’ [those not as likely to vote based on previous patterns] were contacted multiple times.”

Pinnell was highly complimentary of the Victory staff, saying they “worked for months to prepare for three days. That’s what’s it’s all about — those final 72-hours. There was so much political noise on television, [that] we knew the turnout game was critical. In all, there were more than 350,000 phone calls, over 245,000 mail pieces, and over 100,000 door hangers delivered in the final 72 hours.”

In a reference to the 2002 campaign, when Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Largent lost to Sen. Brad Henry, the Democratic nominee who went on to serve two terms, Pinnell reflected, “Republicans  weren’t going to allow another November 6th, 2002.”

As for candidate recruitment, Pinnell contends, “the biggest key in our candidate recruitment was that we had candidates who understood ‘boots on the ground’ still mattered. They weren’t sitting in their Lazy Boy recliners expecting Barack Obama to bring it home for the GOP.”

He continued, “The candidates who knocked the doors and made the phone calls performed very well. It is critical that the Oklahoma Republican party continues building a farm team with this kind of candidate.”

Some analysts have contended the underlying surge was so fundamental that the Republican wins nationally and in the Sooner State almost happened on “auto-pilot,” but that seems a debatable proposition. Pinnell told CapitolBeatOK:

“[President Barack] Obama and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi helped, yes, but you still have to run a strong campaign. An election can be turned upside down in minutes. Our candidates were very disciplined and in tune with what was motivating voters. That mattered much more than Obama.”

Asked about his communications with county chairmen and others in the party structure, Pinnell said, “When people think, they decide; when they feel, they act. I preached this to our county leadership all election cycle. What was going to motivate people to get in their cars and go vote? Figure that out and drive that message over and over. We did that, and we now have eight new statewide Republican officials because of it.”

At the Oklahoma Victory office, veteran Republican Pam Pollard was the 72-hour program director. One of five political technicians in the Victory drive, she was in charge of Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts, “lit” (literature) drops and other practical matters.

Pollard recounted her background this way: “I’ve worked on Victory in one capacity or another since 2004. In the 2004 campaign I was the one who focused on Oklahoma County primarily. I was less directly involved in the 2006 effort with the work I did for Ernest Istook. Then, in 2008, I was the Oklahoma County Republican chairman and thus involved in Victory through that role.

“This year, I was in the middle of the statewide Victory effort. I was tasked with developing the methodology and implementing the program for the GOTV effort.”

Pollard disclosed there were differences between this Victory operation and some past years: “The traditional vision in ‘Victory’ programs is to identify and turnout your high propensity [very likely] voters, that is, those who are going to vote four out of four or three out of four times.

“This year’s program was in some respects different. Based on the political climate it was clear early on that the likely voters were virtually certainly to vote and, further, they needed little or no nudge to go ahead and do that.  The ‘perfect’ voters were already motivated.

“The unique wrinkle this year was that we focused our efforts on those who vote 25 to 50 percent of the time. Our entire focus was on the Republicans who, with some encouragement, would get to the polls and vote.

“As for the Democrats we found who were indicating they were going to vote straight Republican, we left that up to the individual candidate campaigns, as we did the high propensity Republican voters.  Greg Treat [the Victory director] did the research and shared that kind of information with the campaigns to decide how to use.

“After we had voters identified we contacted them four times, each in a different way. We did literature drops, U.S. mail pieces, live calls, and a Robo-Call from former Governor Frank Keating.

“We did run into an interesting snag and that was that the state’s move to a 911 system meant that in many cases in the rural areas the addresses we had from the election records, listed in the traditional ways were different than the “new” addresses. At the end that was a challenge. I don’t think that will be an issue in the future.

“Before it all started I did a lot of research and study of past elections, from the 2002 cycle to the 2010 primary. That helped us determine which precincts in the state we needed to target, and what kind of vote numbers we wanted from those precincts. I had a number that we established in the particular precincts, and how that figured into our totals.

“We knew we wanted to contact 100,000 households in the 72-hour program, a total from at least 150,000 voters to 200,000 voters.