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.
Earlier on HuffPost:
The Republic Will Collapse
"It's much the same as Alexis de Tocqueville talked about in 'Democracy In America' -- that this American republic will collapse once Congress and obviously our president realizes they can bribe the public by using the public's treasury," Allen West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/allen-west-obama-republic-will-collapse_n_1428851.html" target="_hplink">told a Florida Tea Party group</a>.
"I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party," Allen West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/allen-west-democrats-communist-party_n_1417279.html" target="_hplink">said at a town hall</a>. "It's called the Congressional Progressive Caucus."
"You want to talk about something that's really racist?" West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/allen-west-tanning-salon-tax-racist-_n_1408454.html" target="_hplink">said at a Florida retirement home</a>, referring to a 10 percent tax on tanning salons. "They have a tanning tax. I'm not tanning."
Mocking Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) for wearing a hoodie on the House floor, West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/allen-west-bobby-rush-hoodie_n_1389170.html" target="_hplink">said</a>, "I'm thinking about a University of Tennessee big orange colored hoodie-footie, and, you know, see if I can sneak by the security and get in there."
"This is another example of the bureaucratic nanny-state not considering the economic ramifications of its insidious regulatory policies," West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/allen-west-handicapped-access_n_1385186.html" target="_hplink">said of a proposed regulation</a> to make all public pools handicapped-accessible. "I have talked with and received letters from several South Florida hotels saying this is a wasteful exercise that will cost Florida businesses a lot of money and accomplish nothing."
"Anyone challenging me on my support to this visionary plan to restore our economic security will be signing up for a suicide mission," West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/allen-west-paul-ryan-budget_n_1372386.html" target="_hplink">wrote on his Facebook</a> about the Ryan budget. "My recommendation to any detractors, read Proverbs 17:28 and heed its advice. It is time for those who understand how to govern, not demagogue."
West credited the possibility of a Republican winning the 2012 election for helping improve the stock market. "I would think maybe the markets are looking five to six months down the road when we have a change in leadership in this country," <a href="http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2012/03/allen_west_says_stock_market_i.php" target="_hplink">he said on Fox</a>.
Osama Bin Laden
West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/allen-west-obama-osama-bin-laden_n_1316160.html" target="_hplink">wrote on his Facebook</a> that Barack Obama should stop talking about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. "Please stop with the Osama Bin Laden line, U.S. Navy SEALS double-tapped that rascal," he wrote.
West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/allen-west-second-holocaust-israel-iran_n_1304297.html" target="_hplink">warned</a> that the U.S. might not be doing enough to protect Israel against Iran: <blockquote>"You're looking at a second Holocaust" if Israel doesn't "know they can trust and depend upon the stars and stripes ... to provide them support," West told attendees of a town hall meeting last week at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to the Palm Beach Post.</blockquote>
'Insidious Form Of Slavery'
"The Democratic appetite for ever-increasing redistributionary handouts is in fact the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today, and it does not promote economic freedom," West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/16/allen-west-slavery-democratic-handouts_n_1281570.html" target="_hplink">said in a speech</a>.
'Get The Hell Out'
"Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else," West <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/28/allen-west-liberals-get-out-florida-primary-2012_n_1239247.html" target="_hplink">said, referring to Democratic leaders</a>. "You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America."
"If Joseph Goebbels was around, he'd be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/allen-west-joseph-goebbels-democrats-propaganda_n_1152365.html" target="_hplink">West said in a speech</a>.
"I'm here as the modern day Harriet Tubman to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility," West said while <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/18/allen-west-harriet-tubman_n_930052.html" target="_hplink">making an analogy</a> in which he also compared black leaders like Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to a "plantation boss."
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
In an email to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/19/allen-west-debbie-wasserman-schultz_n_904047.html" target="_hplink">West wrote</a>, "You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up."