Four years ago, North Carolina was the only battleground state to deliver a win for Mitt Romney. In 2016, Donald Trump outperformed Mitt Romney in 84 counties. Hillary Clinton under-performed President Obama in 86 counties.What did Donald Trump have that Hillary Clinton didn’t?Hillary Clinton failed to inspire the voters that coalesced around President Obama, while Donald Trump energized voters from all backgrounds, including lifelong Republicans, Democrats, and Americans who had never cast a ballot in their lives. Additionally, Donald Trump inherited a ground game that was in place in North Carolina years before he became the GOP’s nominee.While Mitt Romney did well in North Carolina, it was clear after his 2012 loss that the Republican Party needed to make a change in order to be successful in future elections. With that understanding, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and state parties across the country began building a permanent, data-driven ground game to elect Republicans up and down the ballot.The GOP learned several lessons from the 2012, 2008, and even 2004 elections. One lesson was that the party couldn’t parachute staff into a battleground state a few months or weeks before Election Day and expect to get results, so the party had staff on the ground in North Carolina since 2013 to recruit volunteers, train organizers and engage voters in every corner of the state.Another lesson was that brick-and-mortar offices don’t elect candidates. For that reason, our organizing and voter contact all too confined to phone calls from offices in 2012 largely happened face to face and person to person this cycle. While pundits and our opponents tried to correlate the number of offices in a state with a strong ground game, we maintained an emphasis on one-on-one voter contact in the field and put greater investment and resources into identifying, persuading, and turning out our targeted voters.This election cycle, we built the largest GOP turnout operation ever in North Carolina’s history. Ultimately, there were over 1,260 paid staffers and trained organizers, in addition to thousands of volunteers. From conservative-leaning unaffiliated voters to swing voters to low-propensity Republicans, the GOP’s sophisticated data and targeting allowed us to pinpoint the exact voters we needed for turnout to be successful on Nov. 8.This NCGOP/RNC partnership was integral in helping Sen. Thom Tillis defeat Kay Hagan in 2014, and immediately it shifted focus to further growing our operation for 2016. By the time Donald Trump became the nominee, we had an infrastructure already in place to harness the enthusiasm ignited by his candidacy.Through our ground game, Republicans out-registered Democrats since June 2015, adding 145,668 Republicans to the voter rolls a net gain of 44,660 over the Democrats. We cut the Democrats absentee and early voting margin in North Carolina by 140,160 votes from 2012. Our team made over 5 million volunteer voter contacts and by the end of September, we had knocked on more doors and made more person-to-person contacts than in all of 2012.As NCGOP chairman in 2012, I worked closely with RNC Chairman Priebus to improve our ground game, which started with conversations on maintaining a year-round presence in North Carolina. The contrast of our ground game in 2012 to our 2016 operation is stark, and the numbers speak for themselves.We could not have been successful this election cycle if not for the commitment and passion our staff, team leaders, volunteers and activists who worked tirelessly to elect all of our candidates. It is the hard work of those individuals that brought Priebus’ vision to fruition and helped secure Donald Trump’s historic victory. Together, we changed the Republican Party’s ground game forever, and the changes are here to stay.Robin Hayes is chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and former congressman for North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District.
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