Crist seeks to replicate Democrats’ Georgia strategy in Florida race against DeSantis

Charlie Crist delves into an unusual strategy to attract voters in his bid for governor of Florida: paying people to tell their friends, family and neighbors about his campaign.

The tactic – dubbed “relational organizing” by political professionals – is relatively new to the world of electoral politics, although it is still untested. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) relied on the strategy ahead of his successful 2021 runoff campaign against former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Hoping to replicate that success, Crist’s campaign — in coordination with the Florida Democratic Party — is now working with Relentless, the same firm that helped put the strategy into action for Ossoff’s campaign. Crist’s operation has recruited more than 600 organizers statewide into the program, with efforts concentrated in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida, as well as Tampa.

The premise of the strategy is simple: instead of sending volunteers and campaign staff to have unexpected — and sometimes uncomfortable — conversations with strangers, relationship organizing relies on paid organizers or volunteers to have more natural and fluid political discussions with their knowledge.

Proponents of relational organizing say these conversations are often more persuasive and more successful in gaining people’s support than more traditional methods of voter education.
“We know that a conversation between people who know each other is about two and a half times more effective than a conversation between strangers,” said Greta Carnes, the former national director of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign organization. and one of the co-founders. of Relentless.

“When you hear about [Crist] because your mom sent you three texts in a week about Charlie Crist, you’re gonna trust your mom,” she said.

The campaign estimates that its organizers will have had more than 20,000 conversations during the 2022 midterm cycle, the equivalent of knocking on around 300,000 doors.

Crist’s campaign is not the only operation to try a relational organizing strategy. The Texas Democratic Party launched a similar volunteer program earlier this year called Connect Texas, while another group, the Progressive Turnout Project, has invested in a paid relationship organizing program in battleground states. like Georgia and Nevada.

Crist’s campaign has spent about $1 million on the effort so far. He primarily targets low-propensity Hispanic and Black organizers, believing that these organizers will help the campaign effectively target other low-propensity voters in their communities.

“Florida is so big and there are so many voters that can be really hard to reach,” Carnes said, describing the Crist campaign effort as a kind of test. Such organizing tactics have not been deployed on such a large scale in Florida.

“How does it work specifically to organize Hispanic communities and organize this effort in English and Spanish?” Carnes asked, adding, “I don’t think we’re just running a cookie-cutter version of a program we’ve run before.”

Of course, the program may have to do some heavy lifting. A polling average in Florida’s gubernatorial race shows Crist trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis by nearly 10 points, an astounding margin in a state where top contests are often decided by a percentage point or less.

By comparison, an analysis of Ossoff’s relationship organizing program found that it improved turnout by about 3.8 percentage points among the 160,000 voters targeted by the effort. Ossoff ultimately won that election by a slim margin of 1.2 points.

Of course, this type of improvement cannot be applied at all levels, Carnes said. For one thing, relationship organizing is still a new concept, and Ossoff’s campaign used it for a few weeks before his runoff victory in January 2021. Crist’s campaign, on the other hand, has been going on for months. .

“The Ossoff program was the first program of its kind,” Carnes said. “From the start, it was really an experiment, so we can’t take this 3.8% increase and apply it everywhere.”

But Crist’s campaign sees the relationship organizing strategy as a longer-term investment that could help give Democrats a way forward in a state that has seen Republicans make significant gains in recent years.

“The relationship organization sets our campaign apart and sets a roadmap for a new tactic Florida Democrats can use moving forward,” Sydney Throop, Crist’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Our agenda isn’t just about connecting with Democrats, it’s about reaching Floridians, who are often excluded from the political process, and bringing them into the fold. This is how Florida Democrats will play to win for cycles to come.

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