As volunteers canvass local neighborhoods rallying support for Republican candidates, gone are the clipboards and thick packets of data points. Instead, volunteers now are equipped with detailed profiles of registered voters in the palm of their hand.
Following presidential election losses in 2008 and 2012, the Republican National Committee developed an electronic app to track every aspect of get-out-the-vote efforts throughout the country in real-time.
After RNC chairman Reince Preibus issued his “autopsy report” in 2013, detailing how Republicans must improve across the board to win back the White House, voter registration efforts, field offices and outreach were bolstered throughout the country, most notably in “battleground” states like Iowa.
“RNC has had staff on the ground here since 2013, which is unheard of,” said Lindsay Jancek, RNC Iowa communications director.
“So for three years, we’ve had someone here on the ground building the infrastructure, making sure that we’ve got voter registration cards at every single event ... we learned a lot from ’08 to 12.”
46 days remain
This week, Jancek was in Burlington working with RNC field director Jacob Way and the Des Moines County Republican Party, to connect with voters and reel in absentee ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
“This year, because of (the app) and because of our field operation and ground game, I really do think we’re more aggressive in Iowa than we ever have been before, as far as Republican outreach and efforts, to ensure we’re electing as many Republican candidates up and down the ticket as we can,” Jancek said Tuesday evening at the Des Moines County Republican Party’s field office in Burlington.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been widely criticized for its lack of organization and slow efforts to assemble a ground game, compared to Hillary Clinton’s massive election machine.
But Jancek cautioned against comparing the two organizations, arguing office space does not necessarily translate into action.
“I don’t think its fair to compare offices to the effort,” she said. “So much more happens outside these four walls than whatever happened inside of them. Voter contact is the most important thing. I think a lot of people take advantage of the fact that Iowans really need and deserve and want that face-to-face attention. They almost expect it during caucus time from the candidates, and they expect it when we start door-knocking.”
‘I was sold’
Tuesday evening, like most evenings and weekends between now and Election Day, a small group assembled at the Burlington field office to go door-to-door in Burlington talking to voters.
With smartphones, informational materials and absentee ballots in-hand, Jancek, Way and three volunteers piled into their cars and set off for the assigned neighborhood.
Once they arrived, the group consulted for a few minutes about which houses they would approach, synched their phones to the app, quickly reviewed the route and were ready to begin.
According to Jancek, undecided voters and “soft” Democrats and Republicans were their target groups.
Danville’s Cindy Stevens has been actively involved with the local Republican Party this election and was known as one of the most enthusiastic volunteers working in Des Moines County to elect Trump and down-ballot Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, congressional candidate Christopher Peters and state Senate candidate Tom Greene.
“When I saw Trump was going to run, I was thrilled,” said Stevens, who previously voted for Democratic presidential candidates and volunteered with the John Edwards campaign.
Raised by a single father in the military, national security concerns and respect for the armed services are among Stevens’ top selling points for the billionaire businessman from New York.
“I was sold,” Stevens grinned, as she prepared to approach the next home.
Marilyn McCrory, 82, was one of the first homes the app — powered by Google Maps — instructed Stevens and Way to approach.
A lifelong Republican, McCrory said “oh yeah” she was voting for Trump, but her friends were committed Democrats.
“I hate that Hillary (Clinton), and I’m afraid she’s going to make it,” McCrory said. “All of my friends are Democrats, but I’m not going to change my mind.”
Despite Trump’s lack of governmental experience, McCrory believed Trump would surround himself with quality advisors to help him make the right decisions.
“I realize he doesn’t know everything because he isn’t a politician,” she said. “ But we need something different. I just cried when Mitt Romney didn’t make it.”
At every door, volunteers were instructed to ask if the voter wanted an absentee ballot or had already submitted one. McCrory had not filled one out yet. But by the time Way and Stevens left her door, she had given her ballot to Way for him to submit to the auditor’s office and donned a Trump/Pence sign in her front yard.
Mix of reluctance, enthusiasm
During the hour-long walk, volunteers were politely turned away a few times by residents who didn’t want to talk and some committed to voting for Clinton.
“I’m a Democrat, and I’m not for Trump,” one resident said. “But thanks for coming.”
“People here are so nice,” Jancek remarked of the kindness Iowans display compared to residents in other states. “I haven’t really even been yelled at.”
Another man, a reluctant Trump supporter, said “he’ll have to,” when asked if he was supporting the Republican nominee.
“He’s a lot better than she is. We’ll just have to see,” the man said. “He’ll probably get us in trouble, but a lot less trouble than others.”
Brittney Fraise of Mediapolis, not yet old enough to vote, is supporting and volunteering for Trump because of his promise to reduce the national debt and abolish Common Core standards in school.
“I want to be a leader for my generation, and with my knowledge, I can use it to educate other people about why Trump should be our next president,” the 15-year-old Mediapolis High School sophomore said, as she stood outside a home in Burlington before knocking on the next door.
“Nowadays, a lot of kids ... I don’t want to say they don’t care, but they don’t think that it’s as important as it really is, that they should be paying attention to the politics, because it will affect our generation.”
Stephani Smith grew up in a religious, Republican home and sees in Trump an opportunity to bring America back to the values of God and the Constitution.
“My biggest thing is ... I want to be a voice for all the people,” said Smith, also of Mediapolis. “And advocate for bringing back what our country was built on, and that’s God and the Constitution. That’s what I stand for.
“I want to bring back our conservative values, our conservative morals and bring people back to the party where it belongs. And bring our country back and make it great again.”