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Alabama native playing key role in Republican efforts to take over U.S. Senate

Michael Joffrion

The National Republican Senatorial Committee last week announced Alabama native Michael Joffrion as their new Southeast political director.

According to Roll Call, “Joffrion will oversee the committee’s efforts to topple Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, as well as hold on to retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ GOP-held seat in Georgia.”

In 2010, Joffrion was the Political Director for the Alabama Republican Party. He is also a graduate of Hoover High School and Auburn University, so his Alabama roots run deep.

Republicans are cautiously optimistic about their chances to regain control of the U.S. Senate in 2014. Democrats will be defending 21 seats compared to 14 for the GOP. Several Democrat stalwarts have opted for retirement rather than slugging it out one more time. Montana Senator Max Baucus, Iowa’s Tom Harkin and Michigan’s Carl Levin have all announced they will not be seeking re-election.

D.C. insiders say that Republicans will be going all-in for the Senate this cycle because the tables will be turned in 2016 when Democrats will only have 10 seats up for re-election compared to 24 for the GOP.

Joffrion will be a central player in the Senate GOP’s political operation. We caught up with him over the weekend. Here’s what we found out…

How did running the field operations for the Alabama Republican Party prepare you for the Romney campaign, and now the NRSC?

Michael Joffrion
My three years at the ALGOP were beneficial in preparing me for the Romney campaign and my new position with the NRSC by giving me the opportunity to build a political department from scratch. My previous experience was as a field rep for the RNC and the Giuliani campaign in Iowa, so Speaker Hubbard and [then-ALGOP Executive Director] John Ross put a lot of faith in me to bring a target state-like quality political department to Alabama. At the ALGOP I learned how to manage a staff, identify and target swing voter universes, sell a Victory program to stakeholders, and how to budget for a department.

I think one of the hardest parts of running a department or a campaign is staff management. All the other skills can be taught, but managing staff can only be learned from experience. My time at the ALGOP was the perfect environment to learn in because of the management style of John Ross and the quality staffers I had under me. If it weren’t for those two aspects, I wouldn’t have been ready to manage 86 people in North Carolina for the Romney campaign.

North Carolina, where you were state director for Mitt Romney, stood out as a bright spot on election day in 2012. What was the difference in North Carolina that allowed Romney to win a state Obama had carried four years prior?

I think we were able to flip North Carolina in 2012 for a few reasons.

1. North Carolina was not taken for granted in 2012. In 2008, the McCain campaign didn’t treat it like a target state until August, and at that point it was too late. This cycle, we were fully staffed up in NC by mid-May and we matched the intensity and organization that OFA had.

2. We prepared for early voting the moment we launched the campaign in NC. In 2008, the Republicans were caught off guard by how well OFA was able to turn out their base before election day and it created such a massive vote deficit, the McCain campaign couldn’t overcome it on election day. This time, reducing the early vote difference was our number one priority as an organization. We didn’t focus on turning out high propensity voters during early voting, instead we spent the overwhelming majority of our resources on turning out the low propensity voters. By simply turning out voters earlier who are going to vote on election day no matter what, you are only playing a shell game for positive media stories. Instead, we have to turn out people who might not vote on election day. This cycle, we succeeded in doing that and had a sizable reduction in our vote deficit going into election day.

3. In many target states, the long slog of a primary season hurt us due to having to run far to the right until the end of April. In North Carolina, that wasn’t the case due to the makeup of the electorate.

How are technological advancements changing the way grassroots operations are run?

I think technological advancement has affected political operations more than any other area of campaigns. It has progressed so far and so fast that the 2004 campaign technology looks like a rotary dial phone compared to the smart phone that is the 2012 campaign technology. The biggest advancement is in the ability to capture and analyze thousands of pieces of data on individual voters. Where the Republicans have fallen behind is with analytics and implementation. While we still have remarkably accurate micotargeting data, we have to take the next step with it like OFA has.

Democrats failed recently to recruit choice senate candidates in several key battleground states — including Georgia, which is one of the states where you will be working. What issues do you think are contributing to Democrats’ candidate recruitment troubles?

The NRSC has gone about candidate recruitment in a very different way than the Democrats. Democrats haven’t been able to recruit candidates in states where they recently boasted they’d compete, mainly TX, WV, ME, GA, KY, SC & TN. Other than Maine, the other states were won by Romney and have more conservative electorates; as a result, they have tried to recruit candidates who don’t fall in step with the Obama/Reid/Schumer agenda. They have been unsuccessful so far, with [Georgia Representative] John Barrow and [South Dakota Representative] Stephanie Herseth Sandlin headlining those failures.

How do you feel about the GOP’s chances to win the majority in the U.S. Senate in 2014?

We work each and every day to win the majority. Anything less is a failure. The Democrats’ entire 2014 map is on defense, forcing them to spend resources on candidates with weak numbers. In my experience, it takes a lot more energy to be on defense instead of offense and we are entirely on offense. The map is good for Republicans this cycle. The seven red states are a given, but we will also be competitive in New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota.

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