How RPV & Victory Lost the College Vote on Election Day: By Not Showing Up

The ramifications of last Tuesday’s election blowout are still circulating, but an often overlooked part of the election turnout was the impressive showing that Democrats had in the 18 – 29 vote, a block that GOP operatives and Romney campaign members were convinced would not turn out. Indeed, part of RNC and Romney’s messaging was it’s okay to not believe in the president as much, specifically targeting the ‘hope and change’ voters that were in theory disillusioned after the past four years.

Instead, the youth turnout was 19% across the country, slightly up from 2008, and in Virginia while there was small decrease, they voted Obama 56% – 41%.

Fine, numbers, sure. What’s the point here?

The point is the absolutely abandonment of RPV and Victory on college campuses in Virginia on Election Day itself. In the weeks and months running up to the election there was a push for College Republicans to door-knock and volunteer. College Republicans answered the call, coordinating through the CRFV and the member organizations in the state to get interns to Victory offices and man the phones, knocking doors, etc. Even the day of the election, College Republicans filled Victory offices, making phone calls to hesitant voters. Yet the on-campus actual game day operations were staggeringly bad.

By bad, I mean non-existent. As in none. Zip. Zilch.

I can speak to first-hand observation at James Madison in Harrisonburg, Republican country with a liberal arts university that skews the electorate slightly in favor on the Democrats within the city limits. We completely, 100% abandoned the campus on Election Day to Obama For America. It was an embarrassment to be a Republican walking around campus that day. Up to that point OFA had been a laughingstock in the area, fewer interns, door knockers and visible presence in the area. You would have been hard-pressed to find any Obama-Biden yard signs or bumper stickers.

Then Election Day happened.

OFA had paid volunteers at tables covered in ‘VOTE’ and Obama Biden signs in front of major accessible buildings on campus. They rented more than a half-dozen vans to pick up students, shuttle them to the polls and back. While waiting for the shuttles to arrive, students were handled sample ballots with information and had volunteers ready to answer any questions. 15 passenger rental vans, windows covered in Obama logos and slogans shuttled the students to and from in fifteen minute cycles from 8 AM until the polls closed. JMU tweeted that shuttles were available and posted pictures on facebook on their official accounts, not promoting Democrats but promoting people to vote; had the GOP been anywhere they’d have done the same for us.

A well-executed, well-coordinated effort that left Republicans, including me, dumbfounded and angry. Where were we? Who didn’t think about doing this? Most importantly:

Why are we literally conceding the entirety of a 21,000 student campus to the Democrats on Election Day?

This is not the blame of the College Republicans, both on campus and the state federation. The effort was a well-financed and coordinated operation. Most if not all CR organizations do not have the finances to pay volunteers to sit in front of buildings all day, to rent six vans, provide drivers, etc. This was a operations breakdown and failure by RPV and Victory to have no plan for actually GOTV involving campuses.

I called the Chairman of the CRFV that day demanding to know what the hell was going on. He was just as in the dark, unfortunately. The focus to that point had been volunteers, door-knocking, the grassroots reach-out and no attention paid to actual Voting Day operations. Which meant that the same abandonment was happening across the commonwealth.

Think about this.

Let’s set aside ‘commuter schools’, Old Dominion, George Mason, VCU, where students are more likely to be registered at home rather than at a dorm. Consider only UVA, Virginia Tech and JMU. That’s roughly 21,000, 23,000 and 21,000 students, respectively. 65,000 students. An 18% turnout rate on these three campuses alone is nearly 12,000 voters. What kind of campaign operative thinks we shouldn’t target condensed areas of 12,000 voters, or a voting pool of nearly 65,000? That’s only on three campuses!

VCU: 30,000
George Mason: 30,000
ODU: 21,000

There’s another 81,000 that we’re saying aren’t as important. Now we’re talking 146,000. There are over 100 colleges in Virginia of varying size in population. And while the youth may skew left, to do nothing to reach out to them on Election Day, to have no presence whatsoever?

The organization is there, College Republicans have clubs on all of the major state and private universities in Virginia. That gives instant coordination assistance, they just need the financial and technical support. But to just concede, to not even bother showing up? And then we wonder why we lose the youth vote, or perform so poor? Self-fulfilling prophecy.

The ‘good’ news is while the damage is done, there’s a new election in less than 12 months and plenty of time for RPV to get a college campus plan in place for the gubernatorial election cycle. It’s not a large expense of capital and would allow us to see what works and what doesn’t. But we cannot repeat the dismal showing. It kills morale, it guts our credibility with college kids and makes it that much harder for our message to reach them.

Certainly, this isn’t the reason we lost. We were out-performed across the board. But it didn’t help. And it can only get better. It has to.