It has already been a wild primary election season with several big upsets rocking the political establishment. Add a hotly contested Arizona Democratic primary to that list, where young upstart Ruben Gallego, ran a brutally efficient field operation on his way to a surprise election day victory.
National Democrats have long struggled to turn out their core constituencies in off year elections. For Arizona Democrats turning out that vote is even harder. Gallego, running in a hotly contested Democratic primary, bet that he could turn out voters with an ambitious field program powered by DREAM activists and mobile organizing technology. Shocking just about everyone, his bet paid off.
Gallego not only beat his opponent but he also surpassed, in a primary, the total voter turnout of the previous general election Congressional race held during a presidential cycle in which turnout is always higher. In 2010, the last off year election cycle, voter turnout in the district Gallego is running in was only 25,085. In 2012, a presidential election year turnout climbed to 28,763. This year Gallego'd campaign increased turnout to 30,653 voters beating his opponent by 12 percentage points increasing overall turnout by 22 percent over the last non presidential election year.
Arizona Congressional District 7, a sleepy Democrat bastion in very red Maricopa county, has among the lowest election turnouts in the country. Many local politicos had long ago written off the race as a sure thing for Gallego's opponent, Mary Rose Wilcox, retiring Congressman Ed Pastor's handpicked successor. The election results where such a foregone conclusion that most local news outlets did not cover the primary election. Which is a shame because when the dust settles, many will be left to marvel at a campaign which was run with razor sharp precision.
Gallego, a member of the state assembly, put all his resources into direct mail and field operations forgoing traditional TV or radio ad buys. Putting everything he had into a field operation was a risky proposition in a district that skews heavily Latino, a notoriously difficult constituency to get to the voting booth. Yet Gallego's field team struck upon the perfect confluence of two seemingly very different zeitgeists, the power of young politically active DREAM Activists and the ascendance of mobile technology as an organizing tool.
Gallego's campaign bet that young political organizers who cut their political teeth organizing around the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant lawful permanent residence status and a work authorization to anyone who arrived in this country illegally as a minor, would be the bedrock of a relentless get out the vote operation. They also bet that these very same young Latinos, who overwhelmingly access the internet using hand held devices would excel at using NGP Mini Van apps designed for smart phones to mobilize voters.
Traditionally field campaigns rely on printed walk lists, that are given to canvassers to knock doors to raise awareness around a candidate. Gallego's team did not provide printed walk lists for their walkers. All of their voter information came directly to the canvasser through their mobile devices. The data, with maps and voter information was loaded directly on to a canvassers personal device or on a campaign provided one. This system eliminated time spent on cumbersome data entry, allowing Gallego's team to hit more doors and quickly set strategy for the next canvassing wave.
Gallego has been rewarded for gambling big on a young field operation powered by mobile technology. His ability to quickly analyze field data, collected through door-to-door canvassing, allowed him to target and reach voters with amazing efficiency. He increased turnout in CD7 and assured that the increased turn-out voted heavily in his favor.
Ironically, Gallego's biggest bet was not on technology or his field program, it was on his community. The most inspiring part of Gallegos plan was not his belief in the power of television, radio spots or famous surrogates, it was his belief that if he could get his message directly to his constituency through targeted door-to-door canvassing, they would turn out in larger numbers and that that turn out would tip the votes in his favor. His gamble has handsomely paid off and is sure to be a role model for future campaigns.