WASHINGTON -- Since his defeat to a 29-year-old political newcomer, the media and political strategists have been speculating as to what happened to Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). After all, he heavily outraised and outspent Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.).
The answer, according to one progressive group: women.
Since West finally conceded two weeks ago, the media has speculated over what led to a loss that neither Democratic nor Republican strategists had predicted. For Becky Bond, the executive director of CREDO Mobile's super PAC, the answer is women.
"A year ago, if I were to tell you that Allen West was going to raise $17 million for his reelection, but that I thought if we created a super PAC and spent a few hundred thousand dollars in that race that we could make the difference between his victory and his defeat, you would have thought I was insane," said Bond on Friday during remarks at Rootscamp, a conference for progressive organizers in Washington, D.C.
Instead of diverting money to political ads, CREDO SuperPAC focused on its ground game. And after experimenting with its message, the group found that its most successful strategy involved targeting women both as volunteers and as a voting demographic.
"We did some message testing, and we found out that actually not only were there women in our office who the thing they really wanted to talk about was how these guys defunded Planned Parenthood and wanted to talk about different kinds of rape -- they were enraged by that -- but we also found that our messages about women were more likely to move voters and the voters who were more likely to move were women," Bond said. "So we thought, 'This is great, we are just going to talk to women.'"
West enraged progressives with his record on women's issues during his two years in office. He sponsored a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. In turn, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund gave him a zero percent rating for opposing abortion access in the military, for supporting abstinence-only sex education programs abroad and more generally for "undermining the full range of women's health services." He also made a series of inflammatory statements about women, including during an April 2011 speech in which he claimed that women "have been neutering American men."
Women in south Florida were paying attention. On April 2, when CREDO opened its campaign office in his district, 72 volunteers showed up to campaign against the Tea Party lawmaker.
"We would have women who were raped in college who wanted to go out and talk about the congressman who had voted against the reauthorization of the National Violence Against Women Act," Bond said.
Some Democratic super PACs ran ads to highlight the congressman's voting record, including one ad that proved controversial for portraying West as a boxer punching white women. But Bond felt that an old-school organizing campaign, when combined with modern data analysis and testing, would be more effective.
"Our scalable resource is people," Bond said. "We know from the resources that have been disseminated over the last 10 years that we could do fewer, but higher-impact voter contacts by having volunteers talk to voters at the door and on the phone ... And so we set out to build a campaign -- an asymmetrical campaign, a David-and-Goliath campaign where we used our volunteers, having higher-quality contacts at the door, to move more votes than their hundreds of super PAC ads."
CREDO SuperPAC's focus on the ground game, which it employed to oppose Tea Party congressmen in 10 races, brought a much higher return on its investment than the ad-centric strategies of conservative super PACs like American Crossroads. Five of CREDO's targets lost their reelection campaigns, including Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) and Rep. Chip Craavack (R-Minn.).
Karl Rove's American Crossroads, on the other hand, spent over $100 million and only supported one successful candidate, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.). Two of the candidates that the organization opposed lost their contests.
Crossroads blamed its poor electoral performance on "very weak candidates." Bond argued rather that Rove and others who focus on costly television ads are just pursuing an inefficient strategy.
"So why didn't everyone do this?" Bond asked. "First of all, it's really, really hard ... And [second], the professional political class just doesn't make any money off it."
Allen West's office did not immediately return a request for comment.