Sparks: 'Having an aggressive, online, grassroots campaign allows us to target and reach voters at the moment of relevance.'
Among the many theories of how Gov. Scott Walker beat back a recall challenge from Democrat Tom Barrett is the allegedly superior Republican "ground game."
"Ground game" refers to voter outreach, including door-to-door canvassing to educate or register voters, phone banking, hosting campaign events and other efforts to directly interact with voters.
"Both sides knew from the very beginning that this race was going to be about turnout," says Ben Sparks, communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. "We knew we had to have a comprehensive ground game in order to emerge victorious."
Since 2010, the state party has been "fine tuning" its grassroots outreach. It has done this by developing a network of identified supporters and volunteers and expanding its online activity.
"Having an aggressive, online, grassroots campaign allows us to target and reach voters at the moment of relevance," says Sparks, referring to the moment a voter searches for a candidate or issue online.
The party has gone from nine "victory centers" to 26 to keep up with the expanding volunteer base. The centers serve as hubs for coordinating the party's ground game and hosting phone banks.
As the recall approached, Sparks says there was a weekly influx of new volunteers. He estimates they had thousands of volunteers for the recall.
Wisconsin Right to Life, the statewide anti-abortion group, also mobilized at the grassroots level on behalf of the Republican Party, though the law forbids the two organizations from working together directly. Susan Armacost, PAC director for Wisconsin Right to Life, says that her organization helped the election effort with events, phone calls and social media participation. Some of their members also walked door to door to educate people about the candidates.
Both the Republican Party and supportive interest groups plan to use the momentum from the recall in redirecting their volunteer networks to Mitt Romney's growing campaign for the November presidential election.
"We've been in campaign mode for three years," says Sparks. "We fully anticipate our comprehensive ground game to remain up and running through November."
The Democrats, likewise, plan to capitalize on the volunteer networks developed during the recall process for Pres. Barack Obama's campaign in the state. Gillian Morris, spokesperson for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, says that volunteers did need a moment to catch their breath after the recall, however.
"We've been very active on the ground," says Morris. "Folks are getting a little bit of time to sleep after a busy period."
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin did not return calls for comment on its recall efforts.
Both Walker and Barrett got more votes on June 5 than they did when they first faced each other in 2010. If there's one thing the different parties agree on, it's the importance of voter outreach through their volunteer's ground game.
"It's everything to the campaign. Voters are obviously how we make this happen," says Morris. "Everything that we do is centered around talking to voters and getting our message out."