LAS VEGAS — Republicans hoping to win in battleground Nevada are taking cues from the group that did it twice: Team Obama.
Officials from the Republican National Committee have hired 40 paid staff in the swing state, including a director, regional directors and “turf coordinators” who manage 29 different “turfs.”
They hope to supplement their voter data collection efforts and TV ads with a personal touch to drive votes for Donald Trump and Republicans further down the ticket.
“It comes down to investing more boots on the ground earlier than ever ... and creating a meaningful relationship with the volunteers and the voters,” said RNC political director Chris Carr, who served as Mitt Romney’s Nevada campaign manager in 2012 and has studied the strategy that made Obama successful. “A lot of those swing voters went out and voted for Obama because they had a relationship with someone.”
The RNC’s systematic ground game must compensate for Trump’s non-traditional campaign. While presidential campaigns typically carry much of the weight of driving voters to the polls, Trump’s campaign is heavy on media coverage and massive rallies and is light on TV commercials, staff and the usual accoutrements.
“A traditional (campaign) would have flooded me with yard signs ... our office should be overflowing with bumper stickers,” said Washoe County Republican Central Committee Chairman Roger Edwards, who gets frequent requests for Trump swag but has to direct people to find it on their own.
Whether that will sink the candidate remains to be seen.
“He’s done so much more with so much less already,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to say he’s going to collapse over that.”
Republicans involved in the ground game this year say the national and local parties and individual campaigns have a more coordinated effort than in years past. The RNC hired state director Bobby Talbot last summer, putting the group months ahead of where it was at that time in the 2012 cycle, and the Las Vegas state party headquarters that serves as a base for RNC staffers is buzzing.
“Truthfully, I’m thrilled,” said Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who’s been active in party politics and acknowledged that Nevada and national Republicans had to repair a relationship that was particularly strained last cycle. “In 2012, it was a lonely place ... now you can’t find a seat.”
Staff and volunteers working with the RNC have knocked on about 75,000 doors in Nevada so far since June. They drop off campaign literature for candidates including Senate hopeful Rep. Joe Heck, ask residents whether they’ll turn out for Trump and score potential voters based on how reliably Republican they are.
Paid turf coordinators — many of whom were trained through an unpaid fellowship program organized by the RNC — each hope to line up 50 volunteers per turf, including neighborhood team leaders who throw house parties to generate enthusiasm for Republican candidates.
Clark County Republican Party Chairman Dwight Mazzone said representatives from the various campaigns and the RNC meet bi-weekly to discuss what individual campaigns need and coordinate on which events they’ll attend. At parades and gun shows, they register people to vote.
“Hopefully that will stay in place for the next election cycle,” Mazzone said. “Over the years, we’ve had a good ground game periodically, but not as strong as we should have.”
Republicans face tough competition against Democrats, who aren’t giving details about the size of their ground force but are coordinating their presidential and down-ticket campaigns and relentlessly attacking Trump and candidates who support him. They are winning the voter registration game and now have a lead of 70,000 voters, or 5 percentage points.
Robert Uithoven, a Republican consultant who worked for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, said it’s crucial not to fall too far behind in registration.
“It’s going to be a close battle,” he said. “That registration number becomes more and more important.”