Blame bad strategy, not blue wave, for Republican failure on Election Day

Author: George Athanasopoulos - November 12, 2018 - Updated: November 11, 2018

George Athanasopoulos

Last Tuesday’s election catastrophe in Colorado should not have been a surprise to anyone paying attention, nor should we be surprised that Republicans nationally performed better than expected. However, both should serve as an indictment of the Colorado Republican Party and a wake-up call for grassroots activists across our state. What happened on Tuesday was entirely predictable, easily avoidable, and the culmination of a series of terrible decisions that began in 2002.

The failure of Republicans in Colorado was not the result of Colorado becoming “more blue”, Jared Polis spending significantly more money than Walker Stapleton, or any other of the likely excuses that will be put forth by the political class. The truth is that Colorado is a center-right state. Ted Trimpa, one of the most prominent and well-connected Democrats in the state, has said as much multiple times on the radio. He said the Democrat’s own internal polling showed that Colorado was evenly split in early 2018. The Democrats and liberal groups also didn’t outspend Republicans. If outside money flowing into right-leaning political committees had been spent effectively, Tuesday night would have been significantly different.

There are many contributing causes for Tuesday’s failure; bad data, poor messaging, a lack of vision, no actual plan, etc. The most significant among these reasons is that Republicans have no infrastructure and no ground game. Many of us have been talking about this for years, but we were ignored as political consultants lined their own pockets by selling access and influence.

Jared Polis, one of the Gang of Four and a principle architect of the “Blueprint,” understands the importance of campaign infrastructure that supports an expansive and effective ground game. It is easy to see this based on how he spent his money. As of late October, 14 percent of his campaign expenditures (approximately $3.4 million) were spent on ground game functions that began nearly a year ago. Conservation Colorado, progressive political committees, and down-ballot Democrat candidates added millions of dollars in just the last month of the campaign.

On the other hand, Republican candidates, the party apparatus, and issue committees that are ideologically aligned, but who operate independently, all outsourced their groundgames to political consulting houses like Vanguard Strategies and don’t employ them in the field until approximately 90 days before Election Day. Walker Stapleton spent just under 1.4 percent of his significantly smaller budget on the same campaign components. Further, the Republican ground game is qualitatively inferior by a wide margin when compared to the Democrats in who it employs, voter contact, data gained, and relationships built. The Democrats won because they leveraged their groundgame to harvest ballots.

Why does campaign infrastructure and a ground game matter so much here but Republican committees elsewhere are successful without one? The answer is simple. Colorado is only one of three states that uses an all-mail ballot system (Washington and Oregon being the other two). Colorado Republicans have to realize that dropping off door hangers in the last month of an election is not the same as building a relationship with voters over the course of a year. Democrats leveraged their relationships with voters across the state to return more ballots and that’s why they won on Tuesday.

We could watch the Colorado Republican Party’s failure in real time as the voter returns rolled in. Republicans submitted their ballots at a rate significantly lower than 2014 while both Democrats and Unaffiliated voters submitted their ballots at a rate significantly higher. We could also watch the failure build over the last year by analyzing expenditures submitted to the Secretary of State. And while Democrats were actively telegraphing their plan for victory, Republicans continued to campaign as if it was 2002. We inundated households with terrible mail pieces, paid millions of dollars for formulaic and ineffective television commercials, and employed a digital advertising strategy that ranged from mediocre to offensive. The Colorado Republican Party and the political consultants didn’t just lose, they committed political malpractice.

As to where do we go from here, the logical first step is that we have to separate ourselves from Tuesday’s failure. Jeff Hays, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, should resign immediately. His executive director, Shana Banberger, should also resign. Every member of the Executive Committee appointed by Jeff should follow. The 2020 election has already begun and we can’t afford to wait until the regularly scheduled organizational meeting four months from now to begin rebuilding our party. If anyone thinks that we don’t need such drastic measures or that we don’t need to rush, they obviously haven’t learned anything from Tuesday’s election massacre. And if that’s the case, President Trump certainly shouldn’t count on Colorado’s support in 2020, and Sen. Gardner should make sure his resume is in order.

George Athanasopoulos

George Athanasopoulos

George Athanasopoulos (@gjathanas) is the founder and president of elephantMade, LLC and a former candidate for Colorado Republican Party chairman.