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GOP Should Stop Playing “Away” Games

November 25th, 2014

“For six years, Obama has been living rent free inside Republican brains.”

Daily Caller’s Matt K. Lewis is absolutely on point in his latest article, “Time for Republicans to Go On Offense.” We have been saying for quite some time that Republicans have to tell the public what they are “for” instead of continually announcing what they are “against.”

Lewis explains that by simply reacting to what Obama does all the time, Republicans are letting the President set the agenda. He sets out the Republicans’ quandary this way:

“Even if they are successfully fighting against one of his policies (not an improper role for them, I should add), they are still playing a road game — they are still operating on his terrain. A good rule of thumb is that if you are operating on someone else’s turf, you are losing.”

That is one of the biggest challenges facing politics today. Everything is a reaction. It starts at the campaign level where candidates are wired to play defense instead of playing offense. Too often, it feels like candidates sit back with their guard up waiting to be punched. When they are finally attacked, they unload on their opponent with everything they have.

While this definitely has a cathartic effect for the candidate and his or her family, it is really a position of weakness or as Lewis calls it “playing a road game.” We try to spend our time getting our clients to play “home games.” By setting forth a strategy of what we want to accomplish, we can successfully execute a game plan. We know what we are going to talk about because it was decided ahead of time and fits into our overall narrative.

Sure, there are times when you need to react, but good candidates can react and get right back on message. That’s something that Republicans in Washington have mostly failed to do.

Instead, they feed the base with fired up rhetoric about Obama and how they will do everything within their power to stop him. It probably gets them standing ovations at the local precinct committee meeting, but it’s not doing all that much to move our nation forward. Republicans must set an agenda for what they want to accomplish. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only path toward long-term success for the GOP. As Lewis explains:

“In politics, as in life, it is hard to shift into a proactive or winning psychological mentality — especially if you’ve been beaten down for a long time. But it’s vital. People who accomplish great things in life tend to focus on the important, not the urgent.”

In this last cycle, Republicans were overwhelmingly successful at the ballot box in a low turnout election. We know that younger voters and lower efficacy voters stayed home. Republicans are still vulnerable to an aspirational candidate with a campaign narrative about solving problems and setting forth ideas – even if they are overpromises (like Obama ‘08). If Republicans can’t find a way to articulate aspirational messages when we live on the greatest country on Earth, they will continue to be vulnerable to Democrats who can.

Voters Demand Immigration Reform

November 24th, 2014

As the immigration debate continues to heat up, the front page of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times tackled the subject with its article, “Immigration debate explodes despite voter desire for change.”  Across the country and locally, voters want immigration reform.

HighGround’s President Chuck Coughlin is quoted in the LA Times article:

“Even here in Arizona, a state known for taking one of the hardest lines on illegal immigration, there is a strong desire to see the political skirmishing end.  ‘People want a solution,’ said Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist who has advised two of the state’s top Republicans, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer, who have sometimes worked at cross-purposes on the issue. ‘They’re tired of the partisan stalemate and the finger-pointing by both sides.’”

Coughlin’s position is backed by data that HighGround Public Opinion collected and highlighted earlier this year in our blog (click here to read the post).  In the past few days, we’ve shared this data again to give some perspective on the immigration debate the demand for a solution.  In the survey of high efficacy likely Republican voters conducted July 10-12, we found that over 65% of the respondents indicated that immigration and border issues were a ‘major public policy crisis’ with another 22% believed that it was a ‘serious issue.’

When asked about comprehensive immigration reform without any additional qualifiers, 51.5% of Republican primary voters stated that they supported the concept, while 30.0% opposed.

Q: Do you support or oppose comprehensive immigration reform?

22.5% Definitely Oppose
7.5% Probably Oppose
19.0% Probably Support
32.5% Definitely Support
18.5% Don’t Know, Refused

In our survey, we also found that a large majority Republican voters supported the “Gang of 8” proposal, from which the President has borrowed several concepts.  Here is what we tested:

Q: Would you support an immigration reform policy that would secure the border with more agents, fencing and technology; crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants; provide a 10 year waiting time to apply to become a lawful permanent resident, but NOT citizenship; and develop a system to issue temporary visas for limited periods for both high and low skilled workers where jobs are not being filled?

10.0% Definitely No
5.8% Probably No
34.0% Probably Yes
43.0% Definitely Yes
7.3% Don’t Know, Refused

In fact, our survey also found that nearly 58% of Republicans would support raising Arizona taxes to secure the border and increase immigration enforcement.  This willingness is born out of frustration and while the sentiment seemed shocking at the time, it is only likely to grow as the immigration situation intensifies.

The Arizona electorate will continue to wade through the rhetoric and demand actual solutions to this problem.

Reflecting on Turnout

November 11th, 2014

As the final ballots are being counted, it appears that the total turnout for the 2014 General Election will be a little over 1.5 million votes. The turnout percentage of 47.1% is higher than our estimate from last week, but still lower than any other General Election with the exception of 1998. In fact, nearly 225,000 fewer voters turned out for this election than the Gubernatorial Cycle in 2010.

Early Ballot returns showed a significant gap in the age of the returns. In fact, nearly 79% of the early ballots returned before Election Day were over the age of 50. The returns will get younger when all is said and done, but clearly younger voters stayed away. Now, more than a year ago, we had predicted that somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9 million people would show up. That was based on a competitive gubernatorial race (check), competitive congressional races (check), and the uptick in participation in 2010. As it turns out, it wasn’t meant to be. So, why did younger voters stay home? People are trying to point to a single culprit, but the fact is, there are several:

In the final two weeks of the election, you would have been hard pressed to find a single candidate campaign that was running a positive television ad. Even the commercials that were meant to soften up a candidate often contained a comparison or an attack on their opponent. This was definitely one of the most negative cycles in recent history which sends younger and undecided voters running for the hills.

On the national media side, you had everyone predicting a major Republican wave which definitely removes the motivation to participate from other parties and unaffiliated voters. The local media, while it did try to devote some attention to policy related issues, most of the candidates did not oblige them here, so story after story tended to focus on the horse race rather than on substance. We’re not really blaming the media here for not covering issues, the candidates simply didn’t get them much substance to cover. If you were in the lead, there was little to no motivation to go to the media because everyone knew that you are basically going to end up donating half of any story to your opponent.

Desperate Emails
Campaigns and Elections hit on this one yesterday. Campaign emails have been a part of the landscape for many years. However, this was the first year where the majority of the emails felt desperate and gimmicky. Daily begging for cash with outlandish headlines and lower case subject lines tuned voters out and lead to less engagement and even less focus on the issues. The Ducey campaign definitely does deserve credit for conducting a priorities survey email, but it is a single bright spot in a sea of aggressive emails, particularly from the congressional candidates.

President Obama officially became the Chuck Norris/Bill Brasky of American politics. At this point, there is no claim about Obama that hasn’t already been made. You name it, it’s Obama’s fault. The President was the centerpiece of most attacks on Democrats. Instead of younger voters flocking to defend their president, they stayed home.

Most voters never thought they would be so happy to see Christmas ads in November. You couldn’t watch any major show or the news without wall to wall campaign ads. Ominous music and grainy pictures filled our TVs – building and negating credibility over each commercial break. After awhile, it definitely becomes noise. The more political commercials are lumped together, the less convincing they become.

Rural Arizona
Diane Douglas lost Maricopa, Pima, and Coconino Counties and still managed to win statewide office. Yuma County, Yavapai County, Mojave County and the rest are a force to reckon with. While they are often taken for granted, it only accentuates the need for campaigns to focus on the whole of the state and not just the metro areas.

Dark Money
A record amount of money was spent Arizona. The media liked to spend a lot of time talking about it and who might be behind it (often using “poured” in the headline for whatever reason). However, the media did very little to cover what the dark money was actually saying. There are a lot of people saying that Dark Money is the biggest reason why democrats lost, but we’re not 100% convinced. Most voters could not tell the difference between the ads and direct mail done by the candidate vs. what was done by dark money. This added to the general “lumping” of political ads which had an overall cooling effect on participation. Candidates definitely benefitted from dark money, but it was less about the content of the attacks and more about the negativity it brought to the election.

Unless something is done about it, dark money is here to stay. It will likely be an even bigger player in the upcoming presidential cycle. Turnout is supposed to be higher in these years, will someone be able to motivate the younger voters to return to the polls or is this negativity that drives down turnout the new normal?

The irrational thing about the negativity of this cycle is that we still live in the greatest Country the world has ever seen, but by the tenor of the media, you would think we were living in some third world country.

Certainly, the next cycle will be driven by an aspirational agenda of the next occupant to occupy the White House. If it doesn’t, our political process might actually join the ranks of other third world countries.


Election Recap Notebook

November 6th, 2014

Borrowing a page out of our favorite conservative columnist Bob Robb’s notebook, here are some quick takes following this Tuesday’s General Election.

2014 1,343,000(approx) 41.5%(approx)
2012 2,323,579 74.4%*
2010 1,750,882 55.7%
2008 2,320,851 77.7%*
2006 1,553,032 60.5%
2004 2,038,069 77.1%*
2002 1,255,615 56.3%
2000  1,559,520 71.8%*
1998 1,037,550 45.8%
1996 1,431,342 63.8%*
1994 1,153,742 55.6%
1992 1,516,276 77.2%*
1990 1,094,735 58.9%

Low Turnout
The 2014 election will be remembered for its historically low turnout. It is on track to have a turnout percentage lower than any general election since at least 1974 (and likely longer).  In fact, 1998 was the only other election in the past 30 years to have a turnout under 50%. It would be hard to call such abysmal turnout a mandate.

Young Voters
The fact is, younger voters stayed away from this election in droves. Some will point to the negative campaigning and record setting dark money as the culprit. Others will argue that there was very little for young voters to be “for” in this election. As Bob Robb pointed out, the irony is that DuVal had a chance to articulate ideas to set up a “competing future.” By taking all tax possibilities off the table, he did very little to set himself apart and failed to articulate any new, big ideas. Procurement reform wasn’t going to cut it.

McCain Rides Again
Speaking of big ideas, with the Republican takeover over the Senate moving Senator McCain into the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, it should be considered a lock that he will run for another term. He has always been a great campaigner over the years and we expect him to jump in with the energy he had when he first went after the seat in 1986. We’re excited at the prospect of him offering up some big ideas to make a bigger tent and offering up solutions to problems to attract the larger audience that show up in Presidential cycles.

Budget Watch
Who will take the lead on next year’s budget? The Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting have said that they are putting things together for the NEXT Governor. So, expect the next budget coming out of OSPB to be the start of a “Ducey” budget, not a “Brewer” budget. Don’t expect Governor Brewer to offer up a budget. The General Election also made the GOP majority in the Arizona State Senate even more lockstep in their budget approach – expect a strong push from the Senate for a budget filled with significant further spending reductions. According to JLBC, the FY2010 total operating expenditures were $9.8 billion and are $9.1 billion for FY2015 signed by Governor Brewer. Speaking of a budget, the Courts have already ordered the state to fund education at a higher level and Arizona’s State Land Trust remains a largely untapped resource for development to fund education.

Now what?
With the failure of Proposition 487, it’s time to go back to the drawing board on pension reform. It’s a problem that faces more than just Phoenix, so here’s hoping they take a broader approach. It’s up to public safety, the unions, and others to get together and articulate a plan that can help solve this problem. We fully understand what they are against – this is their chance to share some big ideas of their own and talk about what they are “for.”

Elected or Appointed?
Is this the beginning of the end of Superintendent of Public instruction as an elected position? According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, Arizona is only one of 14 states to elect their Superintendent of Public Instruction. In fact, 18 are appointed by their respective Governor, 23 are appointed by their state board of education, and three use other methods. Any bets on when that measure makes it to the ballot?

Nice Guys Finish First
In a campaign cycle filled with negativity, Peoria Council candidate Bridget Binsbacher chose to run a positive campaign and was rewarded as the top vote getter. She was the subject of a half dozen hit pieces, but voters saw through the shenanigans and gave her the top spot – a full 10 points higher than her closest competitor. She now faces a run-off that has stretches all the way to March due to the well publicized ballot printing issues. We wish her luck and are excited to help her keep the positivity going.

One Star for Center for Arizona Policy – Truth Watch!

October 31st, 2014

Some of us who live in the Central Phoenix area recently received a direct mail piece that even made our jaded political souls chuckle. With that in mind we decided to publish our very own truth watch….

While we have often been frustrated with the “Pollyannaish” nature of the Republic’s truth watch, their mission of “Keeping Arizona Honest” is a valiant one.

It is in that spirit that we have decided to fact check the Center for Arizona Policy for their latest statement in support of Shawnna Bolick running for the Arizona House in LD 28.


While the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) has a fine tradition of valiantly protecting “preborn children,” the imagery associated with the quote is not that of a child in a mother’s womb. No, that is a child most definitely post birth – and a really cute one at that!

In the mailer, Cathi Herrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy, says, “we need leaders who will stand up for the most vulnerable in our society.”

So is a child in a mother’s womb part of our society? There may be some room for debate here, like the last 40 years or so, but from Mrs. Herrod’s point of view that preborn child is definitely part of her business, err… society.

So, the quote is paired with a picture of a baby – not a preborn child, if they had the picture of a child in a mother’s womb, the HighGround truth watch would have had not trouble with that. The quote and the picture however, do not match. That’s a one star reduction.

Now, to be clear, babies outside the mother’s womb are still some of our most vulnerable members of “society.” Particularly vulnerable are children born to families who mostly do not live in Ms. Bolick’s Legislative District 28 – Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Arcadia – or are dues paying members of the Center for Arizona Policy.

When it comes to CAP however, if you are in the womb, you are truly blessed with their favor and support. However, once you are born – particularly if you are from a low income demographic or don’t happen to attend the right church – you are most definitely on your own.

One only needs to look back to Medicaid Restoration to see how much CAP really cares about the “most vulnerable.” During the debate, Center for Arizona Policy did not support restoration. When Governor Brewer, the most pro-life governor ever in the history of Arizona, claimed that being “pro-life” meant taking care of all of the most vulnerable in our society, CAP balked.

Additionally, in an even more ironic twist of fate, CAP also ignored the “will of the voters” argument for restoration (Prop. 204 in 2000), only to roll it out when it more suited their ideological leanings during the recent court decisions about gay marriage.

At the end of the day, CAP was more than willing to allow 63,000 Arizonans, including 5,000 cancer patients in the middle of treatment, to be removed from AHCCCS when the federal authority was set to expire. They were also willing to cut off healthcare for over 10,000 of our veterans who had returned from war and were not yet receiving their VA benefits. We would argue, along with Governor Brewer, that these Arizonan’s certainly were some of the “most vulnerable members of our society.”

So in addition to a one star reduction misleading imagery, we must also unfortunately take another two stars away for the hypocrisy of saying that CAP supports policies which protect the “most vulnerable members of our society”.

If we knew the income demographic or the political affiliation of the parents of the baby featured in the ad, there is a chance that this statement could end up with Zero stars. However, with the information we have at this time, we have no choice but to give Center for Arizona Policy’s statement ONE STAR.

They do care deeply for preborn children.