This makes all sorts of sense … if a recount wasn’t in the offing. Much of political campaigning amounts to triage — sending the resources to where the needs are greatest, and de-prioritizing what holds less potential for payoff down the road. One can tell a great deal about the outlook of campaigns based on where they put their money and their personnel.
The RNC faces two high priorities at the moment, both of them personnel-intensive: two special elections in Georgia and a recount in Wisconsin. Republicans will need a full-tilt ground operation in Georgia to save the Senate for Mitch McConnell against what will certainly be an all-out effort by Democrats to give Kamala Harris the decisive vote in the upper chamber. On the other hand, they will need every available person to cover all the precincts in the upcoming Wisconsin recount.
So what is the RNC’s priority? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count:
The Republican National Committee has decided to [transfer] several field staffers in Wisconsin to Georgia as that state gears up for at least one U.S. Senate runoff election in January.
President Donald Trump’s campaign is seeking a recount in Wisconsin.
The RNC told field staffers under the Trump Victory committee that at least two dozen of their over 100-member field staff in the Badger State will be heading to the Peach State, according to a Republican Wisconsin campaign official aware of the plans. The Trump Victory committee is a joint operation between the Trump campaign and RNC.
This person told CNBC that the move comes as the RNC is looking to put resources toward what could be two Senate runoffs set to take place in January. NBC News projected that the race between Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and and Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock will go to a runoff. That contest is expected to cost well over $100 million.
This is a smart decision, if the current numbers hold up. Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by slightly more than 20,500 votes in Wisconsin, just slightly under Trump’s 2016 margin of victory over Hillary Clinton (22,748). In that election, Wisconsin actually did conduct a recount after Green Party nominee Jill Stein successfully petitioned for it. The eventual result? A shift of 131 votes … in Trump’s favor.
The best opportunity to reverse a gap of over 20,000 votes is a recanvass and not a recount, as Scott Walker tried to explain last week. Errors of that magnitude would have to take place in the data entry from precincts, and there is at least one example in the neighborhood of that example — a 14,000-vote swing in a 2011 Wisconsin state supreme court election. Recanvassing doesn’t take a lot of resources on campaigns, and can be done relatively quickly.
Unless the recanvass discovers problems that drive the gap into the hundreds or perhaps low four figures, however, the recount won’t have much chance of changing the outcome. It may be worth doing anyway for reasons of electoral hygiene, but even if it gets to the stage of ballot challenges, the scale of a 20,000-vote lead is far outside the ballpark for a recount to overcome. At best (or worst, depending on your point of view), those processes only change totals in the hundreds, because the overwhelming majority of ballots are straightforwardly cast. Even the infamous Florida 2000 race only ended up changing the status of a couple of hundred ballots in the gap.
The RNC knows this full well. Rather than chase the recount dragon, they’re allocating resources to where they will have the most impact. They’re selling it as a parallel effort for PR purposes:
“The benefit of building the largest field program in political history is that we can walk and chew gum. We will keep part of our team in Wisconsin to man the re-count, which will not begin for a couple more weeks, and we will barnstorm Georgia to ensure the integrity of the vote for the President and hold the line in the Senate,” Cassie Smedile, a spokeswoman for the RNC, told CNBC late Monday.
The recount won’t take place until January 5th. If the RNC truly thought they had a chance to impact the presidential race in Wisconsin, they would keep their personnel in place for a couple of weeks and then send them to Georgia. Instead, they’re redirecting as much as one-quarter of their Wisconsin operation to the Peach State, even though they have resources in other states where there are no post-election operations in place. That tells us all we need to know about the prospects of victory in Wisconsin — or at least the RNC’s assessment of their chances.