The flood of ads, how she made her fortune, and her lack of experience turned off women voters in 2010 , but Linda McMahon seems to have learned from her past mistakes and on Saturday was showing off her new and improved ground game.
“Without a doubt we have the best volunteers, the best staff of any campaign going,” McMahon said Saturday in a pep talk to volunteers making phone calls at a satellite office in Farmington.
The volunteer phone and door knocking operation Saturday was part of McMahon‘s statewide effort to reach out to both Republican and unaffiliated voters across the state in her campaign for the U.S. Senate.
The Farmington office where McMahon herself made about a dozen calls, was just one of eight locations statewide where volunteers like Jayne Amodio of Farmington made phone calls Saturday.
“If they said they were voting for her they said they’d be at the polls in August,” Amodio, a McMahon supporter and volunteer, said of the responses she was getting.
“We’re going to definitely bring this home, first in August and then November,” McMahon told the volunteers. “We’re on pace to do that with your continuing help.”
If McMahon’s message didn’t resonate with voters two years ago, it’s resonating with them now because “things have only gotten worse,” Amodio said.
Part of the phone script given to volunteers included making sure they knew about McMahon’s economic plan that “will create jobs by cutting middle-class taxes and reducing spending.”
McMahon, who didn’t pan President Barack Obama’s middle class tax cut like her Republican rival former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, wants to make sure voters know she’s not only looking to cut taxes for the middle class, but she wants to reduce them. She would pay for the tax cut with a 1 percent cut in spending.
“I get a lot of positive feedback on that as part of our plan,” McMahon said of the proposed tax cut.
However, she refuses to say exactly where she would cut the federal budget. The only thing she will say is she won’t cut defense spending.
Social Security and Medicare, which make up 40 percent of the federal budget, would presumably be on the table, but like the previous campaign she‘s not talking about those two areas of the budget on the campaign trail.
Part of the goal Saturday was to showcase the “ground game” McMahon has built over the past few months, which her campaign staff says demonstrates the breadth and depth of her ability to turn out voters in both August and November.
Volunteers, who were working three hour shifts Saturday made 24,912 phone calls and knocked on 13,176 doors, then recorded all the information they gathered into a campaign database.
“Campaigns are a lot different today than they were just a few short years ago,” McMahon said referring to the technology employed.
Corry Bliss, McMahon‘s campaign manager, explained that the campaign is targeting both Republican and unaffiliated voters and information about whether that voter is a likely supporter or would like a lawn sign, is being collected and entered into a database.
Volunteers on the phone were able to enter the answers to the question right on the phone during the call. Volunteers knocking on doors were able to fill in a bubble sheet answering similar questions to the volunteers on the phone. Those bubble sheets will later be scanned and the information entered into the database.
Kelsey Conrad, a first-time volunteer and UConn student, said using the phones was super easy and the responses she received were generally positive. In fact, her experience was so positive she was looking to volunteer for another shift.
Bliss said it takes longer to train some of the volunteers to use the phone system, but the data collected is invaluable to the campaign and worth the additional few minutes it takes. He pointed to the sandwiches, potato salad and drinks off to the side and pointed out that if volunteers don’t have a positive experience they generally don’t come back.
Shays’ campaign, who has been reaching out to thousands of voters in a similar fashion, was critical of the Saturday event.
“It’s just another staged event by the McMahon campaign, one that avoids being held accountable for actual positions on issues,“ Amanda Bergen, Shays’ spokeswoman said Sunday.
“Where are McMahon’s tax returns? Does she support another BRAC? Why won’t she go before newspaper editorial boards? Why won’t she have an open, honest debate with Christopher Shays on the issues more often?” Bergen wondered.
“We’ve been knocking on doors and making phone calls for months. It’s not a new campaign strategy and this is another example of McMahon’s make-believe arena in which she thinks she can throw more money around and win. But as she proved last time – it doesn’t work that way,” she said.
Tim Murtaugh, McMahon’s communications director, said the campaign is doing this on a daily basis and Saturday was just a way to show off the new system. He said the campaign is proud of its ground game and believes it will be a “real difference maker.”
Including the voter contacts it made Saturday, the McMahon campaign has made direct contact with 200,000 voters, and has set a goal to make 1 million phone calls and knock on 500,000 doors before the November election.
McMahon lost in 2010 to now U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal by more than 100,000 votes.
Following about a half-hour of phone calls, McMahon said she was encouraged by her experience Saturday. She said one woman told her she didn’t vote for her in 2010, but would be voting for her this year. While door knocking in Waterbury, a woman answered the door and told McMahon she’s a Democrat, but will be voting for McMahon this year.
“I do believe running once before that experience is very, very helpful this time around,” McMahon said. “Of course, I have really good name recognition now.”
According to the June Quinnipiac University poll, only about 16 percent of the voters surveyed didn’t know enough about McMahon to form an opinion about her and of those who did 45 percent had a favorable opinion, while 38 percent had an unfavorable one. While her negatives were high in 2010, they seem to have leveled off and her deficit among women voters seems to be improving too.
A June poll shows she has a favorability rating of 43 percent among women, which is an increase of 7 points over where she stood in March.
But McMahon said the number one thing on voters minds this year is “jobs and the economy.”
“They might add some other things, but it’s first and foremost that,” McMahon said. “I can’t tell you how many people say we need change in Washington. We can’t just keep sending the same people back.”