Crist is trying to replicate the Democrats’ strategy in Georgia in the Florida race against DeSantis

Charlie Crist is turning to an unusual strategy to win over voters in his bid for Florida governor: paying people to talk to their friends, family and neighbors about his campaign.

The tactic — dubbed “relational organizing” by political professionals — is relatively new to the world of campaign politics, though it’s not untested. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) relied on the strategy ahead of his successful 2021 campaign against former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Hoping to replicate that success, Crist’s campaign — in coordination with the Florida Democratic Party — is now partnering with Relentless, the same firm that helped put the strategy into action for Ossoff’s campaign. Operation Crist has recruited more than 600 organizers across the state as part of the program, with concentrated efforts in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in South Florida, as well as Tampa.

The premise of this strategy is simple: Instead of sending volunteers and campaign staff to have unexpected — and sometimes awkward — conversations with strangers, relationship organizing relies on paid organizers or volunteers to have more natural, free-flowing political discussions with their acquaintances.

Proponents of relational organizing say these conversations are often more persuasive and better at winning people’s support than more traditional methods of reaching voters.
“We know that a conversation between people who know each other is about two and a half times more effective than a conversation between strangers,” said Greta Carnes, former national director of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and one of the co-founders. from Relentless.

“When you hear o [Crist] because your mom texted you three times a week about Charlie Crist, you’re going to believe your mom,” she said.

The campaign estimates its organizers had more than 20,000 interviews over the course of the 2022 midterm cycle — the equivalent of knocking on about 300,000 doors.

Cristo’s campaign is not the only operation to try a relationship-building strategy. The Texas Democratic Party launched a similar volunteer program earlier this year, called Connect Texas, while another group, the Progressive Turnout Project, invested in a paid affiliate organizing program in battleground states like Georgia and Nevada.

So far, Crist’s campaign has spent about $1 million on the effort. He is primarily targeting Hispanic and black low-propensity organizers and believes these organizers will help the campaign effectively target other low-propensity voters in their communities.

“Florida is so huge and there are so many voters that can be really hard to reach,” Carnes said, describing the Crist campaign’s effort as something of a test case. Such organizational tactics have not been deployed on such a large scale in Florida.

“How does it work specifically in organizing Hispanic communities and organizing those efforts in English and Spanish?” Carnes asked, adding, “I don’t think we’re just running a version of the program that we ran before.”

Of course, the program may have to do some heavy lifting. An average of polls in Florida’s gubernatorial race shows Crist trailing Gov. Ron DeSantis by nearly 10 points, a staggering margin in a state where top contests are often decided by a percentage point or less.

By comparison, an analysis of Ossoff’s relational organizing program found that it increased turnout by an estimated 3.8 percentage points among the 160,000 voters targeted by the effort. Ossoff ended up winning that election by a slim margin of 1.2 points.

Of course, this kind of improvement can’t be applied across the board, Carnes said. First, relational organizing is still a new concept, and Ossoff’s campaign used it in the weeks leading up to his runoff win in January 2021. Crist’s campaign, on the other hand, has been at it for months.

“The Ossoff program was the first program of its kind,” Carnes said. “It was very much an experiment from the beginning, so we can’t take that 3.8 percent bump and apply it everywhere.”

But Crist’s campaign sees the relational organizing strategy as a longer-term investment that could help provide a path forward for Democrats in a state that has seen significant Republican gains in recent years.

“Organizing the relationship separates our campaign and sets a blueprint for new tactics Florida Democrats can use moving forward,” Crist’s campaign manager, Sydney Throop, said in a statement. “Our agenda is not just about connecting with Democrats, it’s about reaching out and engaging Floridians who are often left out of the political process. That’s how Florida Democrats will play to win in the coming cycles.”


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