Does turnout determine the winner?

Stewart Lawrence
Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Who has the better ground game in 2024? By most accounts Biden still does. That’s one reason so many Democrats remain optimistic about 2024. With less than 5 months to go, Biden has far more campaign field offices in place in the key swing states than Trump, and until recently, at least, far more money available to finance their operations.

In theory, that means disaffected voter groups, especially Hispanics and African Americans, who may not feel the same level of enthusiasm to vote for Biden they did in 2020, will be getting a lot more attention from Democratic canvassers than from Republican ones. So will the slender portion of the electorate that hasn’t voted consistently one way or the other – the so-called “persuadables”, including some Republicans deeply disenchanted with Trump.

It’s not just Democrats that are touting their ground game advantage – privately, so are some Republican veterans of past campaigns, and they’re worried about catching up. But Trump campaign officials say they’re holding back on staffing more state and local field offices until the summer, allowing Democrats to gain a false sense of optimism about their chances in November. In fact, in recent weeks, the Democratic funding advantage – which was pronounced in the spring – has all but disappeared. The GOP is now out-raising the Democrats, and some Democrats are getting worried.

But there’s another cause for worry: Trump’s campaign isn’t planning to rely as heavily on state and local field offices as they did in 2020. Instead, it’s turning to an affiliated organization, Turning Point USA, helmed by conservative firebrand and Christian nationalist Charlie Kirk. Thanks to a little-noticed FEC ruling, outside groups can now coordinate their messaging campaigns with the established candidates, giving them a major two-fer operation.

Kirk’s group, which started as little more than a Christian-oriented student movement two years ago, was once dismissed even by Republican officials as an unwieldy and ineffective operation from which the GOP should withhold its support. But with Trump now firmly in control of the party apparatus, Kirk’s group has been welcomed into the fold – and indeed, has become Trump’s not so secret weapon for getting out the vote.

“(The) ability to work with outside groups on field work alleviates the need to have the same size staff footprint as in previous cycles, allowing us to retain a greater share of resources for advertising and paid voter contact programs than in past cycles,” a senior Trump adviser told CNN this week.

Kirk’s rapid rise within the GOP is largely due to the disappointment conservatives experienced in the 2022 midterms when their expected “Red Tsunami” failed to materialize. Democrats kept control of the Senate and the GOP lost seats in the House. Most Democratic governors survived. Voter backlash to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe V Wade and the weakness of some prominent pro-Trump candidates broke the GOP’s momentum, and gave Democrats a renewed sense of optimism about 2024.

In fact, GOP turnout in 2022 actually surpassed that of the Democrats, reversing the trend from 2018 and 2020. Republicans made some important gains with Hispanic voters and rural voters and even kept their losses among women lower than expected, primarily by getting relatively higher numbers of GOP women to the polls. Still, their 2022 turnout wasn’t on the massive scale that Republicans had hoped for, which gave once ostracized conservative firebrands like Kirk an opening to peddle a new strategy

That strategy, outlined in some detail in a recent CNN article, allows Turning Point’s young field operatives a chance to engage in what they call “relational” organizing much like the community organizing campaigns waged by the left over many years and by the Obama campaign in 2008. The idea is to tap into prospective sources of Trump support among disaffected conservatives that haven’t voted in recent years, dating as far back as 2016. Kirk’s group has culled data from past elections to identify and target these disgruntled anti-establishment conservatives, dramatizing the stakes for the country in 2024, and offering guidance and support to get them to cast ballots, much as Democrats do, especially with minority voters.

There’s a sound foundation for this strategy that should worry Democrats. Polls show that “non-engaged” or “unlikely” voters – who are typically missed in national polling – do strongly favor Trump, by as much as 2-1, the former president a potential groundswell of support, once tapped. offering

Trump is clearly planning to rely heavily on Turning Point in the key swing states where Kirk’s organization is focusing most of its current efforts. In Trump’s recent appearances in Arizona and Michigan he has spoken at events organized by Turning Point affiliates. While mainstream GOP officials who have waged past election campaigns remain skeptical of the group, saying it’s difficult to manage and lacks “accountability”, the Trump campaign – now under the direction of Lara Trump, the former’s president’s niece –sees it as a “force multiplier” that can make up for the campaign’s relative lack of financial resources by placing additional “boots on the ground” backed by outside organizations and individuals – mainly oil execs and sundry multi-millionaires – not bound by traditional campaign funding restrictions.

In many ways Turning Point is filling the void left by older once highly popular conservative youth organizations like Young Americans for Freedom whose members have aged out or simply lost their relevance to students on college campuses where they were once based. Turning Point supports numerous college-based issue and messaging campaigns – often trashing feminism and diversity programs and touting America as a bastion of world freedom.

Excerpted: ‘Turn Out, Not Polls, Will Determine Who Wins in 2024’.