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RNC Looks to Revamp Ground Game

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Republican National Committee Political Director Rick Wiley is charged with overseeing the GOP’s field program and get-out-the-vote program, as well as updating voter rolls.

Obama announced his re-election bid last week in an online video directed to his supporters. On the Republican side, there is no clear frontrunner, with the field of prospective candidates forming slowly compared with the 2008 campaign. New RNC Chairman Reince Priebus began preparing for the 2012 campaign upon taking office in mid-January, but he faces significant challenges.

The committee closed February with a paltry $2 million in cash on hand and 
$21 million in debt from the previous administration. The RNC finished 2007 with $17.4 million on hand and no debt.

The Obama campaign already has organizers on the ground in all 50 states through his grass-roots volunteer group, Organizing for America. Obama campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan said the president’s campaign team expects to field at least as strong a GOTV operation as it did in 2008.

“The OFA field program will continue their work of building neighborhood teams and grass-roots organizers across the country in support of re-electing President Obama to a second term,” Hogan said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn said the implications of the RNC’s ability to adequately upgrade its ground game go beyond the presidential contest and could determine how successful the GOP is in Senate races. The Texan is eyeing a net gain of at least the four Democratic seats needed for the GOP to retake the Senate.

“We need a healthy and vigorous RNC that’s hitting on all cylinders,” Cornyn said. “A presidential election year is going to have bigger voter turnout and obviously other factors than we had in the [2010] midterm election.”

Wiley said there are no significant changes planned for the basic structure of the RNC’s Victory program, which serves as the organizational structure for implementing the committee’s ground game at the national, state, county and precinct levels. However, the RNC will work with party operatives in each state to develop a GOTV strategy that fits the local political dynamic and is looking to add staff dedicated to new media in targeted states.

In fact, the Internet and reaching voters through new media portals such as Twitter, Facebook and text messaging is one area where Wiley conceded Obama remains far ahead of the RNC, and he said his goal is for the committee to close the gap as much as possible before the campaign gets under way next year.

“We have not, in the past, used the Internet to contact voters in an efficient manner, and the Obama campaign was very good in that arena,” Wiley said. “We have to step up our game online — without a doubt.

Wiley, a former Wisconsin GOP executive director and presidential campaign aide to ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), welcomed the continued presence of third-party conservative groups while also expressing a desire to harness the energy and activism of the tea party movement more effectively. Wiley said he would better be able to gauge the early progress of his overall efforts after the May 16-18 Dallas convention of state GOP chairmen.

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