Republicans use 2019 elections, Trump rally to test 2020 infrastructure

State GOP hosted a watch party and phone bank as part of ‘Week of Action’

NCGOP, Michael Whatley
NC GOP Chairman Michael Whatley is pictured during an June 2019 interview. Photo by NSJ Staff.

RALEIGH — On Nov. 4, as President Donald Trump was getting on the stage in Kentucky to boost that state’s Republican governor before Election Day, a watch party at the N.C. Republican Party headquarters in Raleigh was underway. The group was gathered to support Trump and to make last-minute calls for elections closer to home.

The GOP held a “Week of Action” across the country, ending on Election Day, for many races and marking a year out from the 2020 general election. The president traveled to a few of the locations to bolster the Republican candidates. At the top of his list was Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevins, who was facing a potentially tight race.

Samantha Cotten, regional communications director for the president’s reelection campaign, traveled to the Raleigh event from Washington, D.C., and told NSJ the “Stop the Madness” parties overlapped with the “Week of Action” get-out-the-vote effort.

“We’ve had over 100 events in the past 30 days, including protests and press conferences across the country, from Maine to California,” Cotten said about the “Stop the Madness” effort. The campaign is focused on events in areas that supported Trump but are represented in Congress by a House member that voted for the impeachment inquiry.

With Democrats focused on their primaries and impeachment, Cotten said Republicans have been able to get a large head start, and they are seeing results across the country, even in places like Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon, that were not traditional GOP strongholds.

Cotten said they can help local candidates while also testing infrastructure in a “dry run” a year out from the president’s reelection race. The early test will give them plenty of time to adjust and to strategically apply resources based on what they learn.

She said that after the 2012 race, the GOP learned from their loss and from Barack Obama’s data program to create a new ground-game strategy. Michael Whatley, state GOP chairman, said the new data system has revolutionized what being a campaign volunteer entails.

“We’re on with the Trump RNC data center and we’re working with the best data that Republican candidates have ever had, making that available across the state,” Whatley said.

Whatley said the party is using two apps — Advantage for walking and door-knocking, and Red Dialer for phone banking.

“It’s really amazing. It gives you all the information on each house, who the voters are (Republican, Democrat, Independent), how many times they vote, whether they’ve already had field teams there or not,” Whatley said.

Sharon Pace of Apex, a volunteer at the phone bank, described to NSJ her experience making calls.

“People are receptive, but you have to be calm and a good listener, especially when people say things you may not agree with,” said Pace. On whether people seemed open to reelecting Trump, she added, “I think people actually have more excitement to vote for him this time because of what is happening to him and his family.”

This message of Trump being unfairly targeted by the media and the Democratic impeachment inquiry, despite keeping major campaign promises, was consistent from GOP leaders.

“We’re exactly a year out from the election, and you look at the first three years of the president’s term, promises made, promises kept,” Whatley said. “You look at all the pledges that he made: tax cuts, check; rebuild the military, check; unleash the economy, check.”

Whatley said Democrats have nothing to respond to this record with and instead want to prevent the president’s reelection by impeaching him from office.

“Candidates have said that if they can’t impeach the president, chances are, he’ll win,” Whatley said. “That’s why they’re moving forward with impeachment.”

GOP leaders also repeated a common Trump line that the African American and Hispanic unemployment rates are at historic lows. Whatley said this outreach to minority communities, especially around criminal justice and employment, is seeing “tangible results.” The room of volunteers at the watch party was around half African American, lending some anecdotal validity to his claim.

Jonathan Sink, executive director of the N.C. GOP, pointed to the numbers in Robeson County, a minority-majority county that surprised political analysts by gaining significant GOP votes in the NC-9 race.

“It was almost 50-50 — that’s historic,” Sink said. “They’re trending our way. It shows how we are just making such considerable gains in rural areas that five or 10 years ago we would have said, it’s not going to work out.”

Asked if they had concerns about the impeachment process affecting the elections, Whatley and Sink agreed that there was nothing to the accusations.

“The impeachment stuff is just a distraction,” Sink said. “If it was actually about Ukraine, they’d be talking about Hunter Biden, but they’re not.”

“It doesn’t have any validity,” said Whatley. “We spent three years on the Russia hoax, and we found out after $30 million worth of investigations that there was nothing there. Mueller testified that there are no charges forthcoming, so they take an eraser, take out Russia, flip over the pencil and write Ukraine.”