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FreedomWorks, the organization dedicated to lower taxes and less government that is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), will announce this week that it is spending $4 million on get-out-the-vote operations in several key Congressional races between now and Election Day.
Given its status as a nonprofit and educational organization — even though it has a political action committee and a 527 fundraising arm, which are all but dormant — FreedomWorks cannot directly endorse candidates. So most of the group’s money will be spent on grass-roots and publicity campaigns to educate voters about candidates’ views, rather than on seeding its political operations.
“We can get a lot further plugging that money into grass-roots activity than we can if we contribute the money directly to candidates,” said Rob Jordan, FreedomWorks’ director for federal and state campaigns.
So far, FreedomWorks’ leaders have zeroed in on 16 Congressional races they hope to influence. Some are among the most competitive elections in the country, while others are less so.
Jordan said the decision on where to play was based in part on the answers candidates gave to a FreedomWorks issue survey, in part on where the organization already has a strong grass-roots presence and in part on where the organization could make the biggest difference. He held open the possibility that more races — including gubernatorial contests — would be added to the list as Election Day approaches.
The issue surveys are meant to gauge a candidate’s position on tax cuts, Social Security privatization, government regulation and pension reform, among other issues.
“My concern this campaign season is that there is not enough conversation on the major fiscal issues,” said Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks’ president.
While the group is not formally endorsing candidates or coordinating activities with their campaigns, it will make clear, by publicizing its candidate surveys and making other educational materials available to voters, where its sentiments lie. So far, only Republicans stand to benefit from FreedomWorks’ activities.
In the battle for control of the Senate, the group will be involved in three states: Michigan, where Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard (R) is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D); Nebraska, where business executive Pete Ricketts (R) is taking on Sen. Ben Nelson (D); and Washington, where former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick (R) is running against Sen. Maria Cantwell (D).
The organization also will be active in races involving two vulnerable House Republicans — Rep. Charles Taylor (N.C.), who is fending off a challenge from former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (D), and Rep. Clay Shaw (Fla.), who is being challenged by state Sen. Ron Klein (D).
And FreedomWorks will be active in four competitive open-seat House races — in Colorado’s 7th district, Iowa’s 1st district, Wisconsin’s 8th district and Vermont’s at-large seat, where the group will be touting the record of state Sen. Mark Shepard, the heavy underdog in the Sept. 12 GOP primary against former state Adjutant General Martha Rainville.
Less vulnerable House GOP incumbents the group is highlighting include Reps. Brian Bilbray (Calif.), Tom Feeney (Fla.) and Robin Hayes (N.C.). The group also is spotlighting the record of South Carolina state Rep. Ralph Norman (R), the highly regarded challenger to Rep. John Spratt (D), along with challengers to Reps. David Wu (D-Ore.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.). Lastly, the group is playing in the open-seat race in Colorado’s 5th district, where state Sen. Doug Lamborn (R) is the strong favorite.
The FreedomWorks turnout campaign will rely on volunteers to stage events with candidates, handle phone banking and GOTV calls, canvass neighborhoods with literature and call into local radio talk shows. Armey will travel to select districts and states to highlight the group’s positions (separately, the former Majority Leader is scheduled to headline the Washington state Republican Party’s annual fall fundraiser on Sept. 29).
While a key organization on the right mobilizes, an even more powerful organization on the left is doing the same.
Despite the gaping schism in the labor movement, which saw the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters union go their own way last year, the AFL-CIO said it’s poised to be the single biggest GOTV driver on the Democratic side this election.
The union federation plans to spend $40 million on its “member mobilization” program, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney revealed during a news conference last week.
That figure includes money already spent on independent television ads, which ran in key districts and states earlier this cycle. It does not include contributions to individual candidates.
Four other unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have allocated another $100 million for organizing, Sweeney said.
The group will focus on 12.4 million voters in 21 states. The AFL-CIO has zeroed in on 21 gubernatorial races, 15 Senate contests and 56 House seats.
“In 2002 the Republicans boasted that with their 72-hour program they had stolen a page from labor’s playbook and improved upon it,” said Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director. “Today we unveil labor’s playbook version 2.0” — which, Ackerman joked, the Republicans do not have.
Unions have been in “permanent mobilization” mode since the 2004 election, Ackerman said. This year her group is poised to reach 55 percent of its members at work, 10 percent at their homes, 50 percent on the telephone and 20 percent via the Internet.
Ackerman said that if the AFL-CIO achieves those goals, it will add 1.2 million voters above what it delivered for endorsed candidates in the 2002 cycle.
Ackerman said the fact that 70 percent of union voters who were contacted repeatedly by the AFL-CIO in 2004 voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the presidential election is proof that the union model works.
In a separate development, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America last week began running television and radio ads in five Congressional districts held by vulnerable Republicans.
The ads, which are scheduled to run through Thursday, accuse the Members of supporting legislation favorable to pharmaceutical companies and the oil and gas industry.
The ad buy, totaling about $500,000, targets Taylor in North Carolina and GOP Reps. Chris Chocola (Ind.), Deborah Pryce (Ohio), Don Sherwood (Pa.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.).