The new ambassadors of the Republican ground game in Iowa wear aviators and carry iPads.
But unlike years past, they aren’t armed with a clipboard. They — along with hundreds of other volunteers — tote with them an iPad filled with data that updates each day. It lists which houses are heavy Republicans, soft Republicans, Independents, unaffiliated voters, soft Democrats and hard Democrats. But it does more than that: it also targets houses that didn’t vote in 2010, a way to try and expand the voter base.
It’s all part of the Republican effort -- one that the party spent more than a million dollars on -- to try and close the gap on an areas that Democrats have dominated for several cycles: targeting and early voting. In 2012, 65,000 more Democrats here voted absentee than Republicans. In 2010, the last midterm, that number was about 20,000.
At this point, Republicans have shrunk that number to about 6,000. Democrats contend that all Republicans are doing is eating into the number of people who will vote on Election Day, not expanding their electorate. Either way: the GOP is thrilled with the shrinking gap.
“We’re happy that this is working out,” Michael Brickman, the communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, said of the improvements in the canvassing process. He had come for the walk to keep an eye on his young volunteers. “It’s been a rough couple of cycles leading up to this.”
But no data is perfect. On a cold Halloween afternoon, in a quiet enclave of Urbandale houses, the Drake University students learned that hard fact firsthand.
One person who was willing to talk to Hellie identified himself as a Republican -- something Hellie already knew from the iPad -- and said he was going to vote for incumbent GOP governor Terry Branstad. But but wasn’t sure about the rest, including Senate candidate Joni Ernst.
“Is there any issue that’s holding you back?” Hellie asked.
The man said he just wasn’t sure about her.
“That’s surprising because we have him down as a hard Republican,” Hellie said walking away. “Oh well, I’m sure he’ll vote for Joni.”
Brickman had his own spin on this: “You know, we are targeting a lot of houses that didn’t vote in 2010,” he said. “So it’s not surprising to hear him say that. He votes Republican, but not necessarily in the midterms.”
McCaffrey had the next house.
“Hi, is this Jacob?” he said when a man opened the door.
The response: “No, he doesn’t live here anymore.”
“OK, thanks,” McCaffrey said, walking away. But why not ask him if he might vote for Ernst?
“It wouldn’t be worth it,” he said. “Because he wouldn’t be in the survey.”