Building AFP’s presence in new states, Phillips said, is one of the lessons the group took away from the 2012 elections, when Democratic efforts to organize voters proved far better than the GOP’s turnout operations.
“We have to have a longer sustainability, and we have to have a much larger footprint,” Phillips said.
AFP has about 400 field operatives in states around the country. About 40 of those operatives are in Florida, where the group considers reelecting Gov. Rick Scott (R) a top priority.
AFP is also spending tens of millions of dollars on issue advocacy television advertising. It began hitting some Democratic senators with negative ads last fall, with a particular focus on the Affordable Care Act, and so far AFP has spent about $44 million on television. On Thursday, AFP announced it would begin spending $1.3 million on a new round of advertisements critical of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), both of whom face tight races next year.
Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million influencing voters — in part aimed at the midterm elections — understates the actual amount they will spend.
And while that national spending grabs much of the media attention, AFP chapters across the country will focus on local issues, too, where they can influence the makeup of state legislatures or local tax ordinances. The group’s Colorado chapter will soon begin running television advertisements in a small handful of state Senate districts; Democrats cling to a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, making it a prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP.
Term limits are forcing a number of Republican legislators out of office in Michigan, where the state AFP chapter will back preferred replacements, Phillips said. AFP will also defend Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who faces a tough reelection fight this year.
In Arkansas, the group helped defeat a Republican state senator who backed expanding Medicaid in a primary election earlier this year. And in Indiana, AFP will promote several incumbent Republicans who voted in favor of a big tax cut.
Those investments in state and local races can pay dividends at the national level, Phillips said. Activists motivated to turn out against a local property tax, for example, can help get voters to the polls in federal elections.
“A lot of times a local property tax battle will bring a whole new group of people out,” Phillips said. “It’s easier to get movement on the state level.”