The Hillsborough County Republican Party held their monthly meeting Tuesday, and the topic of the evening was developing a ground game for the 2014 election cycle.
Featured guest Brian Swanson, the political director for the Republican Party of Florida, was on hand to explain the tactics.
“This is going to be another one of those election battles where it's going to be won on the ground. It's going to be won on the pavement, knocking on doors, turning people out to vote ... The last election was very close, it was within our grasp, but unfortunately the Obama machine was a very organized and operated machine. We're going to get there, we absolutely will. The advantage we have in Florida is that we are a Republican state, we just don't know with the general elections.”
Before delving into the issue of organizing, Swanson put forward his issues with the Republican Party of Florida. They were directly related to media coverage setting the tone of the party's agenda.
One of Swanson's biggest gripes with the current Republican party is the public divisions and infighting within it. He warned conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Party activists against falling into this “trap” of the media.
“We definitely need to come together, recognize what Ronald Reagan said, that we're a big tent party. If we disagree on five percent of things, and to be quite frank, I think it comes down to 5-10 percent, you're not our enemy, you're our friend. We can't be shouting down each other over all of these minor differences, calling it the end of the Republican party. It's not helping.”
Swanson, who identified himself as “the biggest Libertarian in the world”, instead advocated a focus on the 80 percent that each part of the Republican party strongly agreed with. There was no efforts during the meeting to emphasize where these beliefs clashed or could be compromised.
Swanson also made sure to emphasize how little credit he felt the media gave Governor Rick Scott, while taking some swipes at his potential opponent Charlie Crist.
“He has done a phenomenal job. We have to give our governor credit. A couple of things I definitely want to throw out to you all, in case you didn't know and have been reading a lot of the headlines, our governor so far has paid back $3.5 billion, he's cut over 2600 regulations for small business owners, cut taxes five times in three sessions, he's vetoed tuition increases twice. Let's cut to a quick contrast, Charlie Crist. 830,000 jobs were lost by Charlie Crist. He raised the debt by $5 billion. Scott cut the deficit by $3.5 trillion, and the guy's not done yet. For anyone that looks at the numbers, that's what a conservative governor can do with a phenomenal conservative legislature.”
Swanson praised Scott's decreasing of unemployment and of Florida's education ranking. He referenced the Twitter handle @itsworkingFL for those looking for Scott's economic updates.
On the issue of organizing, Swanson pressed the point of organizing early, building a large community of volunteers, and getting to know the community.
“What we have to do is look at what we can control and what we can do, and what we can do is organize. Organize early, get involved in your communities, bring new folks into the RNC, strengthen the party from inside. Our grassroots organization is very poor. It drives me nuts every time I hear folks talk about grassroots as a four month operation. It's not, it's a long term operation where you need to spend time on the ground building those relationships and organizing your precincts. It's unreal, you can't expect people to show up last minute and carry you across the finish line. You have to spend time in your community, you have to build a relationship.”
Swanson used George w. Bush in 2000, Rick Scott in 2010, and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in 2011 as examples of a small increase in turnout possibly turning an election.
In building a strong volunteer base, Swanson recommended focusing on the values of the Republican Party instead of any racial aspects.
"I hate the term minority outreach," he said. "To me it's people outreach. It's not you're black or white or hispanic. It's Republican, American, Conservative … if we want to bring more minority groups into our party, because you know the left right now is declaring us as something we are completely not, they are saying the Republican party is made up of racists and evil people and that we hate minorities, and they're trying to brand us with that. We can't let them do that. A lot of times folks fall into that trap and I don't agree with it. What you need to do is go out there and start a dialogue, find their values … You find that a lot of times they agree with you on a lot of conservative issues, they just don't understand that the Republicans believe the same thing. They think we're evil.”
Swanson did recommend against using strong language in explain of Republican policies, such as “kick all illegals out”.
A common part of the typical Republican campaign that Swanson refuted was the use of sign waving, of which he declared he was on a “personal Jihad” against. Swanson also advised against bringing up topics such as Common Core and Agenda 21, which he feels as a “libertarian and conspiracy theorist” deserve to be questioned, due to those issues not being what people pay attention to, such as gas prices and the cost of living.
Swanson summed up his talk with the HCRP by insisting on the importance of the Tampa Bay region in the upcoming election.
“This election in 2014 will be won or will be lost in Tampa, it could be lost in this area. Odds are you're going to have somebody who's coming from this area and they're going to turn out some folks from this area who will vote for them. So this is going to be the reality for 2014. Tampa has come through and performed in the past ... we're going to have to come through and get it done.”