An Election Day checklist: 10 tasks for Tuesday

With Election Day finally upon us, it’s the ground game that will separate the winners from the losers in close races across the country.

We asked a group of campaign managers and GOTV pros for an Election Day game plan and came away with 10 things your campaign needs to make time for on Tuesday.

1. GOTV reminders-early and often: The general consensus on this one is that no amount of voter contact on Election Day is too much. So send out timed emails, Facebook and Twitter reminders, as well as texts to drive voters to the polls and help them find their voting locations.

2. Senior staff meetings: Even with the craziness of Election Day, senior staffers should make time to get on a call at least twice on Tuesday. Consulting with one another at Noon and 4 pm, for example, lets your team make strategic decisions or adjustments based on what you’re seeing on the ground.

3. Watch the poll watchers: Your data gathering efforts hinge on the performance of your staffers on the ground, so ensure that your poll watchers are properly monitoring what’s happening at polling locations and crossing voter rolls against their lists.

4. Run a sweep of voting precincts: Make sure your campaign knows what voters will be facing when they arrive at heavily trafficked voting locations. Place volunteers at the polls with signs clearly directing voters where to go, and ensure your volunteers are complying with the law.

5. Be strategic with the candidate: When it comes to the candidate and top surrogates, their time and presence is just as valuable on Election Day itself. So don’t just put your candidate in front of any old polling place to greet voters-be strategic about it. They should be in precincts where voters are most persuadable or where turnout may need a boost.

6. Don’t stop the door knocks: When it comes down to it, door-to-door is the best way to get out the vote. Make sure you have enough canvassers at the ready to keep up the door knocks throughout the day on Tuesday, targeting those who have yet to make it to the polls.

7. Stay responsive: Make sure you’re aware of what voters may be facing en route to the polls. If the weather’s an issue in your part of the country, or a major traffic jam pops up at 5 pm, do what you can to respond. Voters in some areas may need some addition encouragement to get in line at the polls.

8. Keep volunteers and staffers in check: It’s easy to let your passion get the better of you on Election Day, but make sure no one from your campaign gets carried away. Warn volunteers about the dangers of last-minute theatrics-bullying at the polls or stealing yard signs. And if you hear that it’s happening, work to shut it down quickly.

9. Energize the troops: Keep in mind that canvassers and other volunteers may need some additional encouragement throughout the day Tuesday. Consider a midday conference call with folks to update them on the day’s progress and energize them for the afternoon push.

10. Feed your volunteers: You may be too nervous to eat for most of Tuesday, but your volunteers need fuel and caffeine. Make sure someone’s in charge of keeping them fed and happy, because you may need them to be at their best at 7 p.m.

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Romney makes closing GOTV pitch in Virginia

FAIRFAX, Va.-The persistent chant from the crowd at one of Mitt Romney’s final rallies just about says it all: “One more day,” an estimated 8,500 supporters cheered at a Monday afternoon event in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

It was the last event in the critical battleground state of Virginia for Romney before Election Day and part of a grueling day of campaign stops that included rallies in Florida and Manchester, N.H.

At George Mason University’s Patriot Center, Romney issued a final GOTV call in a bid to energize supporters in Northern Virginia and any remaining fence-sitters ahead of Tuesday.

„We’ve known some long days and some short nights,” Romney told the cheering crowd. „I need your vote, and I need your work.”

Setting the stage for Romney, Virginia’s Republican ticket hammered President Obama on a range of issues. The rally featured Gov. Bob McDonnell and former Sen. George Allen, who’s facing Democrat Tim Kaine in one of the country’s tightest Senate contests on Tuesday.

For his part, Romney thanked campaign volunteers for their GOTV efforts and stressed the need for those present to get themselves and their friends to the polls on Tuesday and to work on convincing those late deciders.

„Ask them to look beyond the speeches, the attacks and the ads and look at the record,” Romney said of undecided voters.

Playing on President Obama’s recent “revenge” quip, Romney continued his “vote for love of country” theme at Monday’s Fairfax event, telling the crowd the nation is only one day away from a fresh start.

From Virginia, Romney headed to an evening event in Manchester, N.H., but his campaign has now added two Election Day stops-one in Ohio and another in Pennsylvania.

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Scoring points in tonight’s foreign policy debate

Foreign policy has always been a challenge for challengers. They usually start with no record, and polling these issues can be particularly tricky because the public has a significant knowledge gap.

When we look at domestic issues like education, health and taxes, there’s a strong likelihood that a voter has an education, goes to the doctor and works. Compare that to how many folks have been to Syria or Libya or have any sort of expertise on these topics, and you’ve got a message-testing conundrum. It’s kind of like a corporate marketer asking someone who has never had soda whether he or she prefers Coke or Pepsi.

As a result, skillful pollsters can get the public to say really whatever they want. If we ask, „Should the President work to end the war in Afghanistan?” people will overwhelmingly say, „Yes!” But if we ask, „Should the President do what it takes to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan?” people will also overwhelmingly say, „Yes!” Those two things don’t go together in real life.

This muddled issue environment on foreign policy, national security and defense means that candidates need to up their game. Instead of being able to score points on issues by being pro-choice or supporting small business tax cuts, candidates need to clear different hurdles.

First, does the candidate connect with the emotions of the electorate? If people are scared, does he understand why? If people are angry, does he connect with that sense of anger? Second, does the candidate exhibit steady leadership? Is this a person you want handling nuclear launch codes? Sometimes we call this the “commander in chief test”. Third, do the key validators agree with the politician? What does the military think? How about our intelligence community? Do real experts agree with the candidate, or is he just trying to sound good for the dial test?

A combination of emotional connection, leadership persona and the validation of the security community builds public trust. Had Romney understood this better, he might have launched his Libya attack in a very different manner in the second debate. Instead, he failed on all three counts, and Obama had his best moment of the debate. (And conservatives are still out for Candy Crowley’s head!)

By contrast, Obama enters tonight’s debate with a high degree of trust on foreign policy and national security leadership. He did, after all, give the orders that took out Bin Laden, most of the other top terrorists in the world, Somali pirates and a dictator in Libya. So Romney’s challenge will be to shake that faith, while Obama strives to maintain his credibility.

Right now, there are five major security issues that are registering strongly with the public, and I’ll discuss the major goals of a successful Obama response for each.

1. Defense cuts. Shift the frame from Democrats wanting cuts, and explain that the far right is holding the defense budget hostage to get more tax cuts for millionaires. Use this new frame to lay out a simple case of priorities; both economic strength and military strength keep America safe. So the goal is matching spending to the threats we face, not pegging defense spending to GDP. Remind Romney that a strong defense budget doesn’t end with war appropriations but includes how we take care of the troops afterward, and discuss the current administration’s many successes with veterans and military families.

2. Iran. Recognize that Iran’s nuclear ambition is the No. 1 perceived threat to America. Clearly explain that the current policy is economic warfare, the world has bought in and it’s working to isolate Iran. Internally, Iran is changing its mind about the value of pursuing nuclear ambitions. By contrast, bombing Iran is perceived very poorly by the military and intelligence community because it’s only a 2 to 4-year-long solution, likely results in massive risks to our allies like Israel and could cause more terrorist attacks on US soil. For more on this, see the Iran war game we’ve launched.

3. China. Strike the right balance; China isn’t our friend, but the middle class won’t fair well if we start another Cold War with them-like some of Romney’s old-school advisers want. Frame China as a serious competitor, who needs to follow the rules. Explain the many steps we’ve taken to level the playing field, and remind voters that Romney is financially tied to Chinese success-at the expense of American workers.

4. Energy. Energy has been largely left out of the debates, but it’s a huge national security concern. The energy frame is America controlling its own destiny, which comes through increased domestic production and competing with China and Europe to develop next-generation clean energy sources. Oil is a bad guy here; oil revenue funds our enemies, and oil dependence harms military operations because supply convoys are major targets. Remind Midwest swing voters how many jobs come from wind manufacturing, remind Southwest voters that solar can make them rich and remind America that GOP equals the Grand Oil Party.

5. Arab Spring. In the minds of voters, this includes Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and just about any other country with a big Muslim population, the letter „y” in its name or some level of violent unrest. Commander in chief presence is the name of the game, since not even experts have any idea what to do in these places or what will happen-regardless of who is elected in two weeks. Body language matters! Avoid a quicksand of details, while transitioning to a broader, possibly even inspirational, vision of America’s role as a world leader. Obama should dismiss Romney’s critiques quickly and use this chance to remind people of why you inspired them in 2008.

Finally, Obama needs to expect a steady string of attacks and use a unifying thread to steadily discredit these attacks. A line like, „Governor Romney, as commander in chief you can’t just criticize; you have to lay out and execute a plan,” should be used over and over again, as a theme to challenge Romney’s fitness for the role.

Michael Moschella is the national political director for the Truman National Security Project, which works to train candidates and political organizers at all levels.

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Knocking off the king

Mitt Romney has the chance to do something that doesn’t happen very often-defeat an incumbent president.

There are only two real examples of this in modern political history. After the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush had approval ratings between 80 and 90 percent. The peaceful conclusion of the Cold War during his first term made Bush look like a lock for reelection.

Top Democratic figures, most notably New York Governor Mario Cuomo, passed on running against Bush. The Democratic field appeared very weak, and Bill Clinton had to survive a series of personal scandals to win his party’s nomination. But when the economy went into a recession in 1992, Clinton was able to capitalize on dissatisfaction with Bush’s economic stewardship. After a tremendously successful Democratic convention, Clinton took a 20-point lead.

Though Clinton’s lead narrowed in the fall, he defeated Bush by six points-an impressive victory over a president, who in retrospect looks rather successful.

The other case was Ronald Reagan in 1980. Jimmy Carter was in a more precarious position than Bush. His foreign policy record was marred by the festering Iranian hostage crisis. The economy had both rampant inflation and high unemployment. But in spite of his weak standing, Carter was at worst tied with potential challengers throughout most of 1980. Polls between Carter and Reagan seesawed back and forth, but until late October it was a close race. Finally, in the sole debate five days before the election, a clear Reagan win boosted Reagan to a 10-point victory.

The one other time an incumbent president lost in recent history was when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in 1976. His loss was an anomaly. Ford had never been elected in his own right, which deprived him of one of the advantages an incumbent has-already being deemed acceptable by voters. Furthermore, Ford survived a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan by the skin of his teeth. He was a marked man politically, after pardoning Richard Nixon in the fall of 1974, and Carter had a 30-point lead in the summer of 1976-atypical of the dynamic between a challenger and incumbent. So 1976 was, at best, a victory over a semi-incumbent.

Before that, you have to go all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 to find a challenger who was able to defeat an incumbent president. Roosevelt was able to easily dispatch Herbert Hoover, during the worst year of the Great Depression.

Many incumbents win by blowout margins. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were able to win reelection by at least eight points and often by 15 points or more. All of these presidents were overseeing economic situations that were satisfactory or clearly improving. The few incumbents to lose all had issues with economic management. If an incumbent president is overseeing a strong economy, he is almost a lock to win.

There are two other cases where an incumbent was able to win narrowly. In 1948, Harry Truman capitalized on defections from both the right and left to win an upset victory over Thomas Dewey. In this case, the economy was at the beginning of an economic expansion, and Truman likely would have lost if the election was held a few months earlier.

The other narrow reelection was George W. Bush in 2004. That election was a referendum on Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy and particularly the Iraq War. The economy was generally good enough for Bush’s reelection, but war and peace issues were the determining factor in voters’ minds.

Since the New Deal, the only politicians to defeat a true incumbent president were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton-likely the two best politicians in living memory. Both men were able to create a new political coalition that changed American politics. Reagan was the figure more responsible than any other for the current alignment of the Republican Party as the conservative party and the Democratic Party as the liberal party. Clinton was able to overcome a persistent Republican advantage in presidential elections and affected a strong coalition that has mostly endured to the present.

If Romney is able to win, he would be in good company. We should also be alert to the possibility that a Romney victory could mean an upending of existing political realities.

Chris Palko works as an assistant media analyst at Smart Media Group, a Republican political media buying agency in Alexandria, Va. He is a graduate of American University and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

A version of this post was also published on Smart Media Group’s blog, Smart Blog.

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