Ho­gan’s fo­cus group: 110 anti-Trump women

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

While haul­ing in the most votes ever for a Mary­land gover­nor, Larry Ho­gan had a se­cret weapon by his side: a fo­cus group of 110 women who dis­like Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can who em­ployed an ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign team, was al­ready well-re­garded by vot­ers in the largely Demo­cratic state, but the fo­cus group al­lowed him to pur­sue re-elec­tion strate­gies with an eye to­ward re­tain­ing women vot­ers. It paid off. Ac­cord­ing to exit polling, Ho­gan won 50 per­cent of women vot­ers in Mary­land com­pared to 48 per­cent for his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Ben Jeal­ous.

The Ho­gan cam­paign dis­cussed its use of the group this week with re­porters.

“We used a panel of 110 women who liked the gover­nor, de­spised Trump and were undecided about the race,” said Jim Bar­nett, Ho­gan’s cam­paign man­ager. The women in the fo­cus group were reg­is­tered Democrats or un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers. “We talked to them over and over dur­ing the course of the cam­paign to see how they were re­act­ing to ad­ver­tis­ing and how their at­ti­tudes were chang­ing.”

The cam­paign asked the fo­cus group — which was con­ducted by Chris­tine Matthews of Bell­wether Re­search and Con­sult­ing — how they felt about var­i­ous ads and news de­vel­op­ments. The women kept jour­nals of how they were feel­ing about the race, and were sur­veyed fre­quently about de­vel­op­ments. For in­stance, after hear­ing women in the group stress the im­por­tance of end­ing “ed­u­ca­tional in­equal­ity,” the cam­paign added that phrase to ads.

Vet­eran po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Russ Schriefer, who worked on the Ho­gan cam­paign, called the fo­cus group the cam­paign’s “ca­nary in the coal mine” that could alert them to po­lit­i­cal trou­ble.

“We were all ner­vous that women would say, ‘Gee, I like Ho­gan a lot but, man, I hate Don­ald Trump and I’m not vot­ing for any Repub­li­cans this year,’ ” Schriefer said. “We wanted to en­gage with a group of vot­ers who were most likely to have that sen­ti­ment. Most fo­cus groups are too small. We wanted a larger one. I al­ways felt if we were get­ting three out of 10 of them we were do­ing OK. They liked the fact he cut tolls. They liked the fact he wasn’t rais­ing taxes.”

Doug Mayer, Ho­gan’s deputy cam­paign di­rec­tor, said the strate­gies they used wouldn’t have been ef­fec­tive if they hadn’t had a strong can­di­date to pro­mote. — Luke Broad­wa­ter

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