WASHINGTON -- Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee's primary win was more than just a victory over a conservative challenger. It was a critical test of the GOP's superior voter-turnout army, which could be the deciding factor in the November elections.
In an aggressive effort on behalf of the GOP's embattled liberal senator, the Republican National Committee pumped $400,000 into the race on a voter identification-turnout drive that brought a record number of voters to the polls -- voters who gave Chafee his 54 percent to 46 percent victory over Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.
But in this case, the RNC voter-turnout ground game did not just focus on Republican voters in the heavily Democratic state, but also independents, who helped provide Chafee with the critical margin of victory.
It was at first an under-the-radar operation that shipped 86 out-of-state volunteers into Rhode Island, and half a dozen paid staffers needed to pull it off. But the GOP isn't quiet now about what they achieved. They want the Democrats to know what they are up against in this election, and the RNC is trumpeting its efforts and the techniques that went into Chafee's win.
In a memo sent out to "interested parties," RNC Political Director Mike DuHaime explained how the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee chaired by Sen. Liz Dole had produced the voter-turnout feat using "the latest technology" and a huge grassroots force.
By employing "the latest microtargeting techniques," the two campaign committees and the state party's army of volunteers had joined "to create a unique turnout universe comprised of both Republicans with a history of primary voting, and unaffiliated voters who were far less inclined to vote in a GOP primary."
"Microtargeting" is not a political term that is widely understood by the voters, but it has become a major high-tech weapon in the GOP's voter turnout arsenal that sealed President Bush's re-election and boosted the GOP's congressional majority. Since then, it has been upgraded and even perfected into a more powerful, far-reaching tool in the midterm elections, party officials told me.
In a nutshell, it is based on tens of thousands of calls to voters that in turn produces a mountain of political data about their political preferences and views on specific issues. That information is fed into a vast computer base known as the Voter Vault, which allows the party to "microtarget" election turnout calls, mailings and door-to-door visits with specific messages tailored to specific groups of people.