There’s no question that the dynamics of a presidential election can create a great deal of uncertainty for downballot candidates — and in both parties, this cycle has created more uncertainty than most. While nearly every observer and talking head spent 2015 writing off Donald Trump’s chances at securing the Republican nomination, we were already working with our Senate campaigns last summer to prepare for every possible outcome to the presidential primary. As the Washington Post discovered, the NRSC began mapping out a strategy for our candidates to run concurrently with any potential presidential candidate last summer.
The results of our preparation are already apparent. In a cycle where many reporters like to pontificate about the “Trump effect,” our Senators have successfully navigated tricky waters in their primary contests. Across the board, Republican Senators have outperformed the top of the ticket in raw votes, and Senators like Richard Shelby, John Boozman, Richard Burr, and Mark Kirk scored decisive primary wins that were hardly guaranteed given the mood of Republican voters. In fact, every Republican Senate incumbent has won with over 60%.
In addition to mastering the intricate mechanics of running a modern campaign, we have a very clear messaging strategy. Republican Senators are talking to voters like they’re running for sheriff. Every message is highly targeted and purposefully local. Our Senators are making sure their voters know they’re focused on issues that matter in their states — Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte are leading the fight against opioid abuse; Roy Blunt is a forceful advocate for mental health funding; John McCain and Ron Johnson are going above and beyond for reform and accountability at Veterans Affairs and VA hospitals. We want to make sure voters are casting votes for Senate candidates based solely on issues related to that Senate race — not up, down, or adjacent on the ticket. We’ve embraced data analytics, new digital platforms and non-traditional message delivery in order to talk to voters in targeted segments amounting to 7–8% of the electorate at a time. The results are self-evident: Portman is running the best field and data program in America and Pat Toomey has been a leader on the digital front with the use of Snapchat to expand his message universe.