State House races focus of Americans for Prosperity's field work ahead of elections

10/20/2016 06:22 PM

GEORGETOWN — With control of the state’s House of Representatives at stake, candidates aren’t the only ones knocking on doors in districts throughout Kentucky.

On Wednesday, Americans for Prosperity’s Kentucky chapter spent part of the afternoon canvassing a Scott County neighborhood in Democratic Rep. Chuck Tackett’s district. Tackett faces Republican Phillip Pratt in the Nov. 8 election.

Tablets and smartphones have replaced paper and clipboards as tracking tools, with every interaction, or lack thereof, noted in the 501(c )(4)’s i360 data application. The new information allows the group to constantly update its voter files.

“We’re a state-based organization, and where we feel like we can affect the most substantive policy change is at the state level,” AFP Kentucky State Director Julia Crigler said. “It’s policies that are coming out of Frankfort that are making Kentucky able to compete or not able to compete.”

The group, founded nationally by conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch, is focusing on Tackett’s votes in this year’s session to preserve Kentucky’s state-based insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion, both made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

Crigler says the nonprofit, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors, has been focused for months on districts where incumbents have supported the federal health law known as Obamacare, voted to raise taxes or simply made life more difficult for Kentucky families.

The latter point is a bit ambiguous, but the first two put Democrats squarely in the group’s crosshairs, although a handful of Republicans have crossed party lines on those issues.

“We’re trying to get our message out on policy at a time when people are really focusing in more on policy, but we’re here 365 days a year,” Crigler said. “We’re not just knocking doors in August, September, October, November. You’ll see us knocking doors well after the election, well into January during session as well to hold these policymakers accountable.”

Hunter Whitaker, Lexington field director for AFP Kentucky, said the group’s canvassing efforts stretch across the state.

“We have people in Bowling Green,” she said. “We have people in Louisville, so we’re hitting all parts of the state right now, and we’ve been going for weeks and weeks. We didn’t just decide a month before the election that we were really going to hit it hard. We’ve been preparing for this. We’ve been IDing who we’re going to be talking to.”

Tackett’s face adorned AFP’s walking materials on Wednesday, but since the group is a 501(c )(4), it can’t explicitly advocate for particular candidates in elections.

Instead, the non-profit is focused on issues and urges voters in the district to call Tackett about his support of the Affordable Care Act.

That outreach will help the group’s lobbying efforts come session time.

They’ve identified and tracked residents in each district that are receptive to their message, making it easier to contact them when a particular issue hits the General Assembly.

“It’s not glamorous,” Crigler said. “It’s long days. We’re out in the field knocking doors, having those one-on-one conversations with voters. That gives us extra leverage and really helps us during session because we have all these people identified across Kentucky who the issues are important to, that we go back to and revisit.”

Daniel Lowry, spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said in response to AFP Kentucky’s involvement in Tackett’s race that voters in the 62nd House District “know that their own Chuck Tackett cares a lot more about them than the billionaire Koch brothers from Kansas.”

“Expanded Medicaid has brought in more than $20 million in economic impact to those two counties alone, where more than 4,300 working people stand to lose health care if the Republicans pull Expanded Medicaid,” he said in a statement.

While the state House is a focus in Kentucky, AFP chapters in other states are focusing on federal issues to help support Republican Senate candidates in battleground states.

But when the question of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump comes up, silence is golden after the group’s founders said they would not dabble in presidential politics this cycle.

“When we’re talking with people about these local House races, we’re able to say, ‘Listen, no matter what happens at the top of the ticket, these policies are going to affect you,’” Whitaker said. “‘They’re going to affect your day-to-day life, so let’s focus on what maybe you can control.’”

Crigler says she’s optimistic that AFP Kentucky’s efforts this year, which include digital advertising and direct mail, will pay off. Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority in the House.

“We’ve tested the door-to-door model, and what we’ve learned is that one-on-one voter contact, that one-on-one conversation with individuals about the policies affecting them are what has a greater ability to move the needle, to change the hearts and minds of these people,” she said.

“TV is one tactic. It has its place. It’s able to start a conversation, but when you’re talking about substantive policy change, that one-on-one contact, that conversation at the door, that conversation on the phone from people right here in Kentucky is what’s able to make the difference.”


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