Weldons Campaign

Essay by billm978University, Master's December 2006

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One of the important relationships in Weldon's campaign was that between the GOP organization and the campaign, itself. I wanted to understand some of the reasons why Weldon's campaign lost by such a large margin, besides the popular belief of the Weldon scandal causing his political demise. One area that seemed to hold much potential was the GOP party groups, such as the RNCC, PA GOP, and local county GOP's because they play critical roles in disseminating information about the candidate and are a major help for persuading undecided voter and mobilization efforts. I felt they needed to be examined to see if there were any remediable inefficiencies with the party organizations that may have hurt Weldon's campaign. In general, most of the GOP organizations, especially the local and state, were highly effective given the circumstances, although there were individuals who were less helpful. In contrast, the RNCC was helpful, but was faced in an untenable position where they would have to hurt Weldon's campaign to achieve a greater goal of keeping the House and Senate.

Therefore, I would blame most of the issues on national trends and most GOP blame should be on the NRCC and executive branches of government.

One of the unusual features of Weldon's campaign was the surprising amount of autonomy, in terms of strategic planning and talking points. The campaign's talking points both illustrated the positive aspects of Weldon's record (although it did not shy away from the controversial, such as the V-22 project), and it sought to portray Sestak as a "carpetbagger" because he was in the Navy, and therefore did not live in the district for 31 years. I don't really understand why the national GOP was not more involved with our talking points and creating a unified message with our campaign staff. Instead, it seemed as if there were several parallel campaigns all trying to help Weldon's reelection attempt. Perhaps some of the lack of national oversight was because they felt that Weldon would initially win in a landslide over Sestak, or they felt that there would be other local campaigns that needed more national GOP guidance.

The primary organization that was involved in Weldon's campaign was the Delaware County GOP, which Charles Sexton, the leader of Springfield GOP, was heavily invested in. Their primary role was to supply Weldon's campaign with devoted volunteers and to encourage Republicans to vote for Weldon. Initially, they seemed extremely helpful in this regard, as during the summer; we had volunteers at the office almost every day helping with phone banks and mass mailings. The volunteers made up for in enthusiasm what they may have lacked in specialized skills, and this symbiotic relationship was crucial for the proper functioning of our campaign.

While the interview with Weldon's Campaign Consultant, Alex Rahn, suggested that the local parties did all they could do, I still see a discrepancy between how many volunteers we had compared to volunteers in the two Murphy races or even in the Sestak race, where I often saw five to ten volunteers at key intersections with Sestak signs (we almost never had that kind of presence, and certainly not on a weekday). Perhaps much of the reason for this was simply the national climate being against Republican corruption. Alex Rahn believed this theory to be the case in the 7th District. He also argued that the FBI incident was "unbelievably detrimental" to our race, mostly because it rallied the Democrats and independent voters in the 7th district against Curt and the Republican Party; I speculate even some moderate Republican voters actually voted for Joe Sestak rather than Curt Weldon because they felt a need for change.

One of the particular difficulties in this midterm election, besides the anti-Republican sentiment, was rallying Republicans to vote for Weldon. Leighley, et al., argue that there are "four major influences on individual decisions to participate--social and demographic traits, psychological resources, electoral rules, and the mobilization efforts of parties and their candidates" . Additionally, they assert, "Core Republican supporters are more likely to vote than their Democratic counterparts, because Republicans are disproportionately wealthier, older, and better educated than Democrats" . Where Republicans clearly lost the battle was with the social traits and mobilization efforts. While electoral rules affect both parties to some extent, the social and demographic traits were the main reasons that many people wanted to vote for Democrats just so there would be a change in who controlled Congress.

Division of GOP Resources and Various Organizations

The Republican Party is organized into three main regions: the national GOP, state Republican parties, and the local GOP organizations, such as Springfield GOP headed by Charles Sexton. Normally, these organizations work effectively with one another but coupled with the low approval ratings of President Bush and the investigation of Weldon, it was difficult for the local organizations to be effective. Considering the situation that the local GOP organizations were in, I feel that they were reasonably effective and were not a major part of the reason we lost. Given their resources, these organizations were actually pretty admirable and Delaware County GOP conducted the most canvassing of any local GOP organizations in the country for this election year.

A larger concern was the performance of the RNCC and how it funded our campaign. While we were pledged to receive approximately 6 million dollars in commercials, we only received about 2.5 million of the pledged money. While the official reason given was that Jim Gerlach needed the money more (this was after the scandal), I feel that the national GOP gave up on our campaign, and this surely hurt our campaign morale and definitely cost us in how much we lost to Sestak. While I understand why the RNCC decided to transfer the money elsewhere, their behavior was extremely detrimental to the health of our campaign.

In Green and Hernson's paper, "Party Development in the Twentieth Century: Laying the Foundation for Responsible Party Government?", they argue that while national parties are where the overall party decisions are made, they have not become as much of a forum as previously predicted in other reports . They also assert that while both Republicans and Democrats are good at raising money, Republicans have tended to collect donations from a more varied population, in terms of income and wealth . On the national level, the authors believe that the national party organizations have become more powerful and generally play a larger role with campaign management, media organization, and creating talking points for all candidates endorsed by their party.

They continue to assert that Congressional leadership patterns under the Republicans were vastly different from that under the Democrats. They cite that party-line voting among members of Congress has increased since that time, although they cannot determine the causes; possibilities include the ideological realignment of the parties, many freshman Congressmen who did not understand the decentralized voting pattern common previously, and the inclination of many GOP members of Congress to want to follow Gingrich's lead. Perhaps, this change of leadership style is ultimately what resulted in incumbents like Weldon being voted out of office.

Green and Hernson additionally argue that in the last fifteen years, state and local political parties have also increased in stature. An APSA report about political parties, written in 1950, elucidates how state and local parties were envisioned to work; many people held the sentiment that local and state political parties would function as an issue-oriented forum for members of that political party to debate and discuss policy. People could help determine policy for the national party platforms at these forums under the APSA vision in 1950, and the local parties were designed to prevent the national parties from being influenced too heavily by interest groups. The reality is that local and state parties do help to formulate national policy, but the overall party structures have tended to be top-down, as opposed to this bottom-up model. Local parties have generally not been heavily involved with policy-making, unlike what the APSA vision in the 1950s promoted, to form a more responsible government. Consequently, local and state party organizations are mostly involved with grassroots organization although local parties sometimes do try to help national parties remain accountable to each individual district. Despite the fact they do not formulate policies, under the Republican leadership, their presence (for both parties) has increased as the voting pattern of legislators and party platforms have changed.

Particulars of the Race

There were several particular comparisons one can make to determine correlations with the other local races. Compared to the races in the 6th and 8th districts, the win/loss margin is much greater for Weldon's race: 12% differential compared to less than 1% for the 6th and 8th district races. Overall turnout levels were also somewhat higher for Weldon's campaign compared to the others probably due to the investigation and that he was popularly thought of as a corrupt Congressman. Other comparisons to be made were spending, which was relatively equal between the Weldon race and the Gerlach race, but somewhat higher than the Fitzpatrick-Patrick Murphy race. A second surprise was that Weldon and Sestak raised relatively similar amounts of money although Sestak had 1 million dollars in hand while Weldon's campaign overspent its funds, meaning that Weldon spent more money than Sestak, but still ended up losing, which is highly unusual for an incumbent Representative. I believe that fact shows that the national atmosphere was highly against Weldon because he won with at least 59% of the vote each election in an area that has tended to vote for Democrats, meaning that there was a new source of dissatisfaction for this election.

The Critical Question

Did the RNCC, state GOP, and local GOP organizations meet their responsibilities for helping Curt Weldon for his reelection? I generally believe that the RNCC failed to come through for Curt Weldon, although for reasons not entirely of its own fault (regardless, it should not be blameless); the local GOP organizations were effective with the means that they had to help, and the Pennsylvania GOP, while not that helpful, responded much better than they ever have for previous Weldon elections. Some more difficulties were evident with local committeepersons and on the individual level, the Weldon campaign had difficulties getting people to meet their supposed obligations, even before the FBI investigation. While the actual official party organizations themselves generally met their requirements, certain individuals seemed lackluster about Weldon and this may have diminished the effect of the GOP organizations.

The local county GOP organizations were generally very effective in many ways, but they quickly became overwhelmed by the inevitable problems of Republican dissatisfaction with President Bush that would likely have reduced Republican straight-ticket voting, and then with the investigation that increased turnout against Weldon and may have turned many Republican moderates against Curt Weldon and the party, at least temporarily. Additionally, Chester County GOP and Montgomery County GOP are relatively weak organizations, so they have more difficulty distributing lawn signs to committeepersons and it is more difficult for them to hold events for Republicans and run other GOTV initiatives, compared to other counties' political organizations.

Delaware County GOP, as always, was much more helpful than Chester County GOP and Montgomery County GOP simply because it has more resources available. Delaware County GOP supplied Weldon Victory Committee with volunteer lists for phone banks during the summer. During the fall, they helped distribute Weldon signs and sent volunteers to the office to help with mailings and ran their own phone banks. Additionally, they provided approximately 400 volunteers for Election Day, which unfortunately was lower than expected, most likely because of fewer committed Republicans due to the investigation. Overall, the county organizations were relatively effective, especially the Delaware County GOP.

Montgomery County GOP and Chester County GOP were less effective as a group than Delaware County GOP, but they still were generally helpful. Unfortunately, we still lost Montgomery County to a 1:1.5 ratio to Joe Sestak, but the volunteers and staffers at these two county organizations (Chester County more so than Montgomery County) were devoted to the Republican cause and were helpful for attempting to get Weldon reelected.

One group that seemed to cause more difficulty was the committeepersons. I was often delegated to deliver signs to them, and they were sometimes frustrated because I would give them too many signs or they did not really seem that dedicated to seeing Curt win. On Election Day, some of the committeepersons would not even take the literature I was handing out and as a result, our ability to disseminate information about Weldon was sharply reduced, especially in less Republican areas of the district such as Haverford Township. While committeepersons are not always that heavily involved with local politics, if there was not much discrimination against Weldon and the Republicans, I doubt they would have rejected some of the literature that I gave them because they claimed it was too negative. While these circumstances were unfortunate, there is not much one can do about this issue when the majority of people are hostile to the Republican Party.

Compared with the local Republican Party organizations, the Pennsylvania GOP was much more effective this election cycle than in previous ones because they were able to help us with voter lists (that were surprisingly accurate) and gave us routes for volunteers to walk when they canvassed. These resources saved us much money and time and were invaluable for our efforts. It is unfortunate that they could not help us more in other regards, but we were generally satisfied with their help, considering they are notorious for being unhelpful to Republican candidates. I would therefore rate their contributions as helpful and of major importance for our campaign because they saved us much time and money.

On the other hand, the classification of the RNCC's relationship with Weldon's campaign was somewhat more complex. Their basic function for candidates tends to be supplying money and developing talking points for candidates. In Weldon's case, the talking points were mostly engineered in-house by campaign staff and interns; however the money for advertisements remained a potentially large issue. As mentioned earlier, Weldon was promised over 5 million dollars in money for RNCC advertisements. While the campaign received some of the ads, the RNCC instead decided to send money to the Fitzpatrick and Gerlach campaigns, especially Gerlach as the Quinnipiac and Franklin and Marshall polls both showed that race at almost exactly 50/50 Gerlach v. Lois Murphy. Therefore, compared to Weldon, who was shown at 7-10 points down after the scandal, was a lower priority for Republican leadership; additionally, most of the GOP's budget was spent on attempting to preserve the Senate rather than the House, which many in the Republican Party believed the Democrats would take regardless.


Generally, the GOP organizations attempted to mobilize voters and argue for reasons why people should vote for Weldon. Regardless, there were certain Republicans who were likely less enthusiastic about Weldon (mostly moderate Republicans, who may have voted for Sestak) and there were other committeepersons who did not really seem to care about the election. Much of this was due to national trends and the FBI investigation, but there was also the issue of Republican organizations being unable to help the campaign from this hostile environment. While it seems inconceivable that the organizations intentionally did not help Weldon, the RNCC in particular was forced into a difficult position that ended up hurting Weldon's campaign. Whether more help from the Republican Party would have changed outcome of the election appears doubtful (so that can justify their behavior to some extent), but there may have been more that they could have done. While it is hard to determine whether it was their fault per se, the reality was that the Republicans had relatively few volunteers and were unable to effectively mobilize voters to vote for their candidates. Therefore, even though most likely not their fault, the GOP party organizations were unable to deliver their maximum potential for mobilizing voters and had difficulty courting undecided voters.