Jun 3, 2022 - Politics

Exclusive: An inside look at Brian Kemp's ground game

Photo illustration of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Gov. Brian Kemp's more than 50-point victory over former Sen. David Perdue last week was seen as a rebuke of Perdue's campaign and of much of former President Trump's endorsement slate.

  • But to Kemp's team, it was also a validation of the data-driven organizing infrastructure they've quietly built for more than a year.

Driving the news: Since April 2021, Kemp's team has spent more than $3 million on what they dub the largest field investment by a state Republican candidate in Georgia history.

  • The strategy involved identifying and targeting low-propensity (voted in two or fewer of the last four primaries), likely Kemp voters, which they argue boosted turnout.

Why it matters: It's an effort to catch up to years of organizing by Democrats and Stacey Abrams, Kemp's two-time opponent.

  • "We needed to do something big and drastic on the ground game," Kemp's campaign manager Bobby Saparow tells Axios, calling 2018 "an eye-opener."
  • "Stacey mobilized her folks in a very unique way that I think people took note of. In order to be successful...we needed to build that internally from the ground up, and have our fingers fully in control on the buttons to make sure we knew exactly what was going on and that we were targeting the right people."

Catch up quick: Abrams' 2018 campaign featured a massive organizing infrastructure, which reached 1.9 million voters. Shepherded by Abrams' longtime ally and two-time campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo, that campaign built on years of work begun by Abrams' first voter engagement organization, the New Georgia Project.

  • But statewide Republicans, who had been winning in Georgia for decades, did not have the same infrastructure up and running. Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler acknowledged this inspired her to create the conservative voter mobilization group Greater Georgia after losing her race last year.

What they're saying: "The days of slapping an (R) next to your name and running some TV ads are over in Georgia," said Cody Hall, Kemp campaign communications director and senior advisor. "The Kemp campaign understood that and made key investments to drive our voters to the polls early and on Election Day."

By the numbers: The governor's campaign tells Axios they reached nearly 600,000 voters via paid door knockers during the primary. By the end, the team had 90 paid staffers.

  • Based on early voting data, one-fifth of those who received door knocks cast a ballot before Election Day, and nearly half of those voters did not vote in the 2018 primary.
  • During the final six weeks of the primary, the Kemp team reached more than 2 million likely Republican voters by paid phone/text banking, more than 1 million low/mid propensity and undecided voters by mail, and deployed digital ads to more than 200,000 low-propensity voters and people with outstanding absentee ballots.

What's new: Saparow said that the campaign made an important decision to build out campaigning efforts internally, rather than relying on outside groups like the state Republican party and the RNC, which does not get involved in primaries. "It was not cheap by any stretch...but we get to see real results," he said.

  • By refreshing voter data weekly, "We got to see which messages were resonating and where our resources were being spent in a way that was very unique, that I don't think we would have been able to fully comprehend if we hadn't done it this way," he said.

Yes, but: The Democrats' operation has only grown since Abrams' 2018 run. During the 2021 Senate runoffs, the campaigns for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock joined forces and knocked on 1 million doors in the final four days alone.

  • Abrams and Warnock just launched their own coordinated campaign for this fall's general elections.

What's next: Saparow said the Kemp campaign will spend "whatever it takes" to keep expanding their ground game during the general election, though he's anticipating the Democrats will out-spend them.

  • But he said Republicans are ultimately hoping "to build something that we can use in 2024 and down the road as well."
  • "We have the data that we can just continue to build and build and build, and I hope it doesn't stop after this election. I hope it continues to get bigger and better."

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