Friday, November 14, 2008

Prop. 8 Lessons

[Publisher's Note: After the defeats suffered by the Republican Party in the General Election, we have reached out to some California leaders to ask them to reflect on this question, "What must the GOP do to once again be the majority party?" We are pleased to bring you this column from FR friend and esteemed political consultant Frank Schubert, who contributes weekly to this website. Most recently, Frank along with his business partner, Jeff Flint, managed the successful Yes on 8 campaign.]

I'm a lifelong Republican and I want to root for the home team. Problem is, I look out on the field of battle and I can't tell which team is wearing the white uniform.

What do Republicans stand for anymore? The GOP leadership in Congress has virtually destroyed the Republican "brand" and turned it into something of value only to white, well-off conservatives. They havevastly expanded federal government spending and influence. They've turned earmarks into an art form. They've walked down Main Street throwing cash into the air - in the form of economic stimulus plans -hoping that people can be bought off with a check from the government. And they've spent untold billions bailing out mortgage companies who made disastrous business decisions that resulted in unimaginable wealth for corporate executives.

Meanwhile the Democratic standard bearer (now the President-elect) runs on a platform of middle class tax cuts.

Is it hard to see why Republicans have failed to connect with the electorate?

But despite the decade-long mismanagement of the Republican brand, the GOP still has an opportunity to reconnect with voters, if they are willing to devote the financial resources, manpower and energy necessary to do so. And assuming they have the commitment to develop a winning game plan, they will also need the discipline to implement the plan over a period of years.

So, what's the game plan?

First and foremost, Republicans have to stand for things that matter at an emotional, gut level to average Californians and their families. We have to appeal to their hearts as much as their minds.

It's time to go back to the drawing boards and start talking to voters. The California Republican Party should launch an intensive voter research program beginning with focus groups across the state. A large part of this focus group research should be aimed at ethnic voters so that the GOP can develop policies that appeal to this critical constituency.

It was my great honor to manage, along with my business partner Jeff Flint, the successful Yes on Proposition 8 campaign in California. This was not a partisan campaign - in fact we went out of our way to make sure it was not a partisan effort. Still, 84% of John McCain voters supported Proposition 8. More importantly, we got nearly one-third of Barack Obama voters on our side, including large numbers of minority voters the GOP hasn't courted in years.

We learned a lot in the Prop. 8 campaign that can help Republicans reconnect with California families, especially in ethnic communities, because we spent considerable time and money talking with ethnic voters. We reached out to them in their churches and neighborhoods. We talked with them on the doorsteps and in their homes. And we took the time to communicate with them in their own languages. Our campaign produced campaign materials in fifteen different languages.

According to exit polls, Prop. 8 was supported by 70% of African American voters, 53% of Hispanic voters and nearly half of Asian voters. If it weren't for the support we got among ethnic voters, we might very well have lost Proposition 8.

What we learned from these ethnic voters when we talked with them is that family, especially children, is the center of their universe. They are people of faith with conservative family values. They believe in God. They crave economic opportunity. They care deeply about how their children are educated. They are involved in their communities, and they want government policies that address the things they care about.

These are people who are largely ignored and taken for granted by the Democratic Party, who can be wooed by the GOP. There are also vast numbers of unregistered voters among these ethnic constituencies.

The focus groups I recommend should aim like a laser beam on identifying policies that appeal to ethnic voters. They might include obvious GOP themes like providing economic opportunity by making it easier to start a small business. But it may be less obvious, like tax policies that make it easier for families to afford day care, policies that encourage elder care, after school programs, or detailed reform of the school curriculum.

I'm not suggesting that Republicans become like Democrats and start proposing new government programs to appeal to certain constituencies. Rather, I am suggesting that the GOP align the party's core values with the values of these ethnic voters in ways that will connect with them in real and emotional ways. An example: ethnic parents want their schools to emphasize real educational excellence and achievement, they don't want kindergartners asked to literally sign cards pledging themselves to be allies of gay rights when they are not even old enough to write their name in cursive. Think I am making this up? It was part of "Coming Out Week" in the Hayward Unified School District and who knows how many other districts in California.

Once the issues have been identified and a game plan crafted, then the truly hard work begins. It is not easy to reach ethnic voters. It requires an extensive, concerted and continuous outreach program. It will cost real money to do this. Leaders in these communities have to be identified and recruited. Volunteers and staff must be deployed to community events, neighborhoods, churches and gathering places. Materials must be developed in native languages and distributed.

It won't be easy and it won't happen overnight. But it can and should be done. It's time for a new game plan that helps California voters know for which team to root.

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