Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"We Haven't Won Yet"

David Corn:

... Karl Rove, Republican Party chair Kenneth Mehlman and their partners-in-politicking need to fret just about a small number of House races. Do the math: If 50 House races are competitive and the Democrats need a 15-seat gain to take the House, Republicans could thwart the Dems by holding on to 18 or so of these races.

Consequently, Democrats ought to keep in mind another image: At an undisclosed location (“Sorry, Mr. Vice President, we need this for something more important.”), a war room is set up, divided into two dozen cubicles. The operatives working in each square are focused on one of these do-or-die races. The Republican Party has given them unlimited resources. They have been instructed to do whatever it takes: negative advertising, rumor campaigns, dirty tricks. Gentlemen and ladies, they have been told, the civilized (that is, Republican) world depends upon you. Do not permit the (Democratic) hordes to breach your gate.

And in the cubicles, computers of massive power hum quietly. Data is being analyzed. The Republican Party is looking for its most sympathetic voters. Block by block. Household by household. It’s called “micro-targeting.” This practice goes far beyond identifying folks who have registered for a party and getting them to the polls. What political micro-targeting entails is searching through massive amounts of consumer data on individuals and finding correlations that indicate who is likely to vote one way or another. Who in the 23rd District prefers bourbon to gin? Bourbon drinkers tend to vote Republicans; gin fanciers lean Democrat. Now which bourbon drinkers in that district subscribe to Field & Stream rather than The New Yorker. And so on. The Republicans have been wise to this game for several years, with the Democrats playing catch-up.

With powerful databases in hand, the Republican National Congressional Committee can tailor messages to the individual. It can send one potential Republican voter a mailing that highlights the Republican plan to build a fence at the border to keep out all those scary illegal immigrants. And it can send a mailing that hails Bush’s attempt to concoct a comprehensive immigration reform package to another voter in the same district. (It can do likewise with get-out-the-vote phone calls and door-to-door campaigns.) Not only can there be different messages for each district—remember, whatever it takes—there can be different messages within the district. All according to the data. The point is to assemble winning majorities voter by voter in those hold-back-the-tide districts.
Predictions are pointless. However, it does seem that even the Senate has become within reach of the Democrats. Yet if there are more page scandal revelations, more bad news out of Iraq and more Republicans slippage in the polls, Rove and the Republicans might just be able to stem a tsunami by sticking the right fingers in the right holes. If that happens, it will be quite a feat—and another sign the American political order is susceptible to the wily manipulations of well-financed and willing-to-do-anything politicos.

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