Ground game, turnout could decide Senate race

by Patrick Flanagan

While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.

While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.

Compared to 2010, the 25 states that have already conducted statewide primaries this year experienced a decline in turnout to the tune of 3.5 percent. Of the 25, only three had higher figures than four years ago.

Yet there are too many moving pieces to make the comparison perfect here and Louisiana arguably has one of the most competitive Senate races in the nation to help generate excitement among voters - not to mention rather juicy congressional races on the eastern side of the state.

The possibility of an undecided balance in the upper chamber after November is what makes the Bayou State so special, with its last-in-the-nation pre-Christmas runoff. Louisiana voters could literally choose which way the U.S. Senate leans.

Of course, if the Senate makeup is somewhat clearer after the November primaries, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and Congressman Bill Cassidy, a Republican, ride off toward a December runoff as expected, excitement could wane in Louisiana.

But any guess as to the partisan makeup of the Senate is speculation at this point. If nothing else, the findings in the new report underline how important the ground games will be for the campaigns and parties in Louisiana.

On the Democratic side, officials are continuing a process implemented years ago that moves the party further away from last-minute efforts to get out the vote.

For many elections, a late focus on the ground was a hallmark for Louisiana Dems, but that isn't the case now, they contend, as voters who were cultivated during the last presidential election are being convinced that there's plenty of action on the midterm ballot.

The focus these days is less on voter registration and more on maintaining quality contacts.

"It's not enough to show up the month before the election and ask for their vote," said Kirstin Alvanitakis, communications director for Louisiana Democratic Party.

Sources close to the Landrieu campaign say they're relying heavily on a metrics-driven system, building off of the so-called "big data" push overseen by President Barack Obama's team.

"In particular, you can expect them to zero in on white women, specifically independents," said a consultant. "The old system of bringing a box of checks and a box of t-shirts to New Orleans to hire as many election-day workers as possible, and doing nothing else, isn't going to work anymore. They know this."

Republicans, who were behind the data curve in recent presidential elections, have invested millions in Louisiana building a model based on precinct captains and capturing voter information early in the field.

The project, more recently dubbed GeauxRed, has been chugging along for more than a year and has already identified more than 1,000 captains, said Jason Doré, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party. Like Democrats, they've established field offices around the state.

"The key has been keeping in contact with these voters without burning them out with too many emails and phone calls," he said. "There's a real vacuum for this work and we're filling it. Longterm, we're laying the foundation for future races for governor and president."

While super PACs and outsider groups have yet to co-opt the ground game in a meaningful way as their own, some organizations, like the conservative Americans For Prosperity, are indeed making a go of it. Political observers expect AFP to be out and about on election day.

The organization already has one field office in Baton Rouge, where it is headquartered, and one each in New Orleans and Lafayette. There's also a satellite office in Shreveport.

Additionally, religious leaders around the state are eager to get involved in the ground game and motivate their troops.

"We understand that the three equal branches have not been treated as equal as they should be and we all realize that it may be up to the Senate to ratify the next member of the Supreme Court," said a source involved with faith-based politics. "The nation teeters on just a one-vote margin on the court. Louisiana's next senator could make the difference in who gets appointed."