The Federalist interviewed Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, on his expectations for the coming election.
The Federalist: How optimistic are you about this election? Where do you see the real possibility for turnovers, and where are you concerned just in terms of seats that are being defended?
Reince Priebus: Generally, I’m very optimistic. I’m always nervous. I can’t wait to declare victory but I’m nervous about it. I think that we’re doing really well in purple states like Colorado and Iowa and North Carolina and New Hampshire. I think that we’re going to win some of those.
I think obviously if that happens then I don’t see a way that we don’t net six and get the majority.
You can kind of see where a lot of our money today is being spent. It’s being spent on the ground on early vote and absentee ballot voting. Bodies on the ground. Targeting our data to the people that we want to make sure they turn in a ballot.
As these races get closer and closer, our role at the RNC becomes greater and greater as far as making sure we’ve got enough resources on the ground with people, bodies, data that we can possibly have.
We’re doing things where you take an area in Alaska that’s the size of the state of New York and you’re trying to speak to 75,000 people. Some of which have dishes and you’re working through digital efforts and in some cases you have to actually hire people to get in over there on the ground and get the people.
The field operation and what we do as a national party is not some sort of vague thing out there in the sky where we just talk about a bunch of interesting, vague issues and wonder who is going to win. There’s a science to targeting and to understanding consumer data and messaging and then execution on the ground.
We’re following these things on a daily basis. Every day we know obviously what the A-B vote is in Iowa or in North Carolina. If we’re up or down, that changes where we’re sending bodies and people. I feel good about it, but I will tell you it’s an every -day adjustment to make sure in two and a half weeks we win something that I think most people think rightfully should be ours.
The Federalist: There are purple states where you’re very competitive. There seems to be more concern, generally, among some conservatives about states that they more considered as being red states or more solidly headed in our direction. Why do you think, for instance, that there’s so much more optimism about Colorado compared to Georgia, or something along those lines?
Reince Priebus: Because I think in the case of Colorado and Iowa you have a new candidates challenging, and in the case of Colorado and North Carolina or New Hampshire against incumbents that should lose based on their poor record and how miserable things have gotten in this country under Barack Obama and their help.
I think it’s natural that where there’s seemingly more raw fight to be had, people get more excited about talking about maybe taking Mark Begich and Mark Pryor. But when you’re on defense on a situation like in Kansas, or little different in South Dakota, it may be a little less talked about, but it’s just as important to the numbers, of course.
The Federalist: The general media interpretation of this cycle has been one where the more populist Tea Party forces within various primaries were generally crushed. Do you agree with that analysis or do you think it’s something different going on?
Reince Priebus: I think there wasn’t a whole lot of it. You had a few races where you had that kind of dynamic play out but I don’t think it was some sort of national effort across the country. I don’t know what the percentage is, but I bet I’m not off if I say 85 percent or 90 percent of every sitting Senator on the Republican side and House member wasn’t even challenged, really, to any degree of real challenge.
There was no Armageddon. There was a few candidates that came out. Matt Bevin, Mr. Woolf in Kansas, and Chris McDaniel in Mississippi and I would say clearly McDaniel did the best job of almost winning. I might be rude but the other two didn’t really do that well. It wasn’t a matter of Tea Party-establishment. I just don’t think they had a good, they weren’t doing something right because it wasn’t that close.
In the case of McDaniel, I was very clear from the beginning that if Chris won that race we were going to be all-in for Chris McDaniel. That’s what we do. I think there’s a huge misconception out there about the RNC and its role. The RNC doesn’t take any position in a primary but for the most extreme circumstances. We didn’t do that at all this year.
This idea that the RNC is somehow funneling hundreds and millions of dollars into these races pre-primary just isn’t the case. Our job is to get our act together when it comes to being obsessed over the mechanics, the data, the outreach, and the primary system in our party, which is a disaster in the presidential election.
Our job is to be obsessed with those details, in spite of some things that are frustrating about our part, and there are some things that are frustrating to people. But, frustrating or not, there better be some entity out there on a monthly basis that is registering voters, putting boots on the ground, gathering consumer data and information about potential voters, and then building platforms and query tools that allow us to search and execute on that data.
That’s not the most exciting thing in the world to talk about, but we’re dealing with a party that is generally obsessed over candidates and messaging to the detriment of the mechanics. Until we get our act together and start obsessing over mechanics, you can find the best candidate on the face of the earth. I don’t care. The candidate will not win no matter who it is unless you get your mechanics in order.
The Federalist: How far ahead of where you were, say, two years ago do you feel that you are now when it comes to the mechanics?
Reince Priebus: I think light years ahead compared to the past. I think the culture is different. I think the obsession on the ground is different. I think the curiosity and pursuit of excellence in digital and data is off the charts. We’ve got an office in San Mateo with software engineers out there.
There’s a lot of good things that happened in digital and data here over the years and it’s all kind of been clumped together with a technical failure on the Romney campaign on election day.
The obsession over data is something different, and I think that is something that will pay off dividends down the road.
The Federalist: Obviously there’s metrics of success when it comes to electing people, but just in terms of the application of that data do you have internal things that you’re looking at that will sort of help you measure whether you were successful or exceeded expectations in terms of what you wanted to do?
Reince Priebus: Sure. Data points on voters is a way you can measure whether or not you’re gathering enough data in order to be effective. Getting licenses for 5,000 points of consumer data on every single voter in America is important. Knowing the census data on every voter. How many kids do they have, what car do they drive, when they vote, when they don’t, what magazines they subscribe to, what you buy and what you don’t buy. Do you have a hunting license or fishing license? If you do, I have a message for you.
If I don’t have that information, number one, it’s a problem because I’m not only trying to figure out how you vote based on when you vote or when you don’t vote, not on anything else.
If you want to speak to women about Obamacare, well, if you’re a candidate and you say I want to talk to women under fifty that make at least $30,000 and have one child and vote at least every two years and subscribe to one of these four magazines, and here’s the list. Here’s the email. In ten seconds, here’s who you need to talk to.
That makes you as a candidate much more effective and much better at addressing the problem areas that you might be having in your campaign. Having the simple ability through an open, API. The ability to simply take our data here, send it down to your device, have you talk to a voter, hit send, ask a few questions on your device and ship it back up to the main data frame, those are seemingly very reasonable, normal, simple things that a functional operation ought to have.
We didn’t. While a lot of what I talk about to most people may seem reasonable and normal, reasonable and normal is not what has been going on. I’m convinced that the only way to win, especially a presidential election, is for us to actually get even bigger in 2015 and 2016 and get to a place where we’re talking to people on a non-stop basis and then taking that month of voting and pulling everyone that we’ve met over the last four years into the polling booth. That’s what the other side has been doing.