Project ORCA is a massive undertaking – the Republican Party’s newest, unprecedented and most technologically advanced plan to win the 2012 presidential election.Pretty much everything in that sentence is false. The "massive undertaking" is true, however. It would take a lot of planning, training and coordination to be done successfully (oh, we'll get to that in a second). This wasn't really the GOP's effort, it was Team Romney's. And perhaps "unprecedented" would fit if we're discussing failure.
The Romney team's Election Day operation poured its soul into Project Orca, which the candidate described as "state of the art" technology. It was supposed to paint a real-time picture as the voting unfolded, allowing Romney's campaign team to allocate resources and mobilize the voters they needed in critical swing state precincts.
It turned out that Orca's human masters misread the voter turnout. "They expected it to be between 2004 and 2008 levels, with a plus-2 or plus-3 Democratic electorate, instead of plus-7 as it was in 2008," said CBS News' Jan Crawford. "Their assumptions were wrong on both sides: The president's base turned out and Romney's did not. More African-Americans voted in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida than in 2008. And fewer Republicans did: Romney got just over 2 million fewer votes than John McCain."
Conservative commentator Byron York wrote in the Washington Examiner following Romney's loss, "Early in the evening, one aide said that, as of 4 p.m., Orca still projected a Romney victory of somewhere between 290 and 300 electoral votes. Obviously that didn't happen. Later, another aide said Orca had pretty much crashed in the heat of the action. 'Somebody said Orca is lying on the beach with a harpoon in it,' said the aide."Politico picks up the story:
Among other issues, the system was never beta-tested or checked for functionality without going live before Election Day, two sources said. It went live that morning but was never checked for bugs or efficiencies internally. The volunteer at Ace of Spades also cited this issue but as one by which field workers couldn't get to know the system ahead of Election Day. But inside Romneyland, officials were experiencing similar problems as votes were being cast.
In other words, it was not the field element that was the problem, it was the machine that was supposed to be coordinating everything and churning through data to allow the teams to make precision efforts. Instead, as one source said, it was like landing a plane "without instruments."
The numbers in the interface never moved, leaving officials in Boston and out in the states "flying blind" — a phrase used by several people. The workers on the ground didn't know what doors to knock on or what efforts to make with which voter targets who had not yet turned out — some efforts were made but they were slow and more cumbersome. And the campaign officials also generally didn't know which precincts to send auto-calls into to try to boost turnout — especially in precincts in Ohio, where there is no party affiliation in the general election. Instead of targeted information, all they really had to work with was the generic raw vote tallies in various counties.
"The whole point of this system was we were supposed to be able to identify who in these precincts had not turned out, who were our supporters," said one source of the system, which was built at a "substantial" cost. The idea behind it was to use pre-canned, targeted messages to push the voters who hadn't yet cast a ballot, one of the most basic aspects of Election Day GOTV, which is knowing which supporters have already voted and who still needs to be part of a pull operation.Is change ahead? Zeke Miller reports:
In the hours after Barack Obama’s electoral rout of Mitt Romney, young Republican operatives in Washington, Boston, and around the country felt the same letdown as their bosses — the older crop who ran the losing campaigns of 2012.
But some of the younger generation — people in their twenties and thirties, digital natives, committed conservatives — reported another feeling: relief. The time had finally come to push aside the television-centric operatives who have run Republican campaigns for a generation, to reset the party’s values around race and sex, and to adapt its tactics to the era of Twitter.
Politics has always been ruthlessly competitive, with one cycle’s guru the next cycle’s washed-up cable news commentator. Mentors have always had to keep an eye out for protégés wielding daggers. And now the daggers are out.
“Pretty much every relevant oldster consultant's strategy has been repudiated the last two presidential cycles,” said a young Republican operative reflecting on the heat of the campaign.
Tuesday’s election “was a clearing of old mind-sets,” said a second operative deeply immersed in the Romney campaign. “We just can’t keep running campaigns like we used to. Too often the tactical realities of trying to win in 2012 ran into the old maxims of campaigns run in the past.”