Don’t vote? The Trump cam­paign would like a word with you

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY ZEKE MILLER, SARA BURNETT AND ALAN FRAM

Ash­ley Arentz is a political uni­corn.

The 28-year-old Marine from Jack­sonville, North Carolina, didn’t vote in 2016, and she wasn’t even reg­is­tered to vote in the state. But there she was on Mon­day, stand­ing in line for hours in the 90de­gree heat wait­ing to en­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s rally in Fayettevil­le. That made her a golden tar­get for the vol­un­teers in day-glow yel­low T-shirts work­ing to reg­is­ter new vot­ers.

Arentz said she likes the pres­i­dent be­cause he’s “just be­ing straight­for­ward.”

She filled out a regis­tra­tion form on the spot.

Less than 14 months be­fore Elec­tion Day, the pres­i­dent’s team is bank­ing his re­elec­tion hopes on iden­ti­fy­ing and bring­ing to the polls hun­dreds of thou­sands of Trump sup­port­ers such as Arentz — peo­ple in closely con­tested states who didn’t vote in 2016. The cam­paign is bet­ting that it may be eas­ier to make vot­ers out of th­ese elec­toral rar­i­ties than to win over mil­lions of Trump skep­tics in the cen­ter of the elec­torate.

It’s a risky wa­ger borne of political ne­ces­sity, and helps ex­plain Trump’s provoca­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy, from his at­tacks on the me­dia to his racially po­lar­iz­ing rhetoric. Trump, aides and al­lies say, knows he needs to fire up his sup­port­ers, and anger is a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor.

“Peo­ple try­ing to per­suade swing vot­ers are prob­a­bly wast­ing their time be­cause nearly all vot­ers have al­ready put their jersey on,” said GOP strate­gist Chris Wil­son. “Trump needs to bring more of his fans onto the field.”

Tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans choose not to vote in fed­eral races ev­ery two years. The pres­i­dent’s cam­paign is de­ter­mined to turn out the Trump sup­port­ers among them. It views them as an un­tapped stash of Repub­li­can sup­port that can help him over­come stub­bornly low poll num­bers and his dif­fi­cul­ties in win­ning over vot­ers in the shrink­ing political cen­ter.

“There’s a new math spurred by a new can­di­date at the top of his ticket,” Trump cam­paign se­nior political ad­viser Bill Stepien told re­porters. “And I think we need to throw out the old way we look at how elec­tions are won and lost.”

That’s not to say reach­ing them or getting them to vote for Trump will be easy.

The surest pre­dic­tor for whether some­one will vote in the fu­ture is whether that per­son has voted in the past. This political tru­ism has long in­formed cam­paign strate­gies.

Still, at­tempt­ing to shape the elec­torate is noth­ing new.

Barack Obama’s cam­paign in 2012 shocked Repub­li­can op­po­nents when it at­tracted Democrats who didn’t vote in 2008. Ge­orge W. Bush’s cam­paign re­lied on the same tac­tic in 2004. But both cam­paigns tried to ex­pand their bases while also fo­cus­ing on try­ing to claim more vot­ers in the cen­ter.

“The strat­egy was never one of sim­ply look­ing at iden­ti­fy­ing red Repub­li­cans and getting them out to vote,” said Karl Rove, Bush’s strate­gist. “It was also a cam­paign of ad­di­tion and per­sua­sion.”

Trump’s gam­ble comes in deem­pha­siz­ing the per­sua­sion game as it fo­cuses on boost­ing turnout.

The Trump cam­paign and the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee have held events geared at re­vers­ing an ero­sion of sup­port for the GOP among women and Lati­nos. But the central mes­sage of the cam­paign — as de­liv­ered by Trump, its de facto chief strate­gist and spokesman — is tar­geted at those who al­ready sup­port him.

At cam­paign ral­lies such as the one in North Carolina, the Trump cam­paign, the RNC and an au­tho­rized su­per political ac­tion com­mit­tee work the long lines out­side to reg­is­ter vot­ers.

At a Fe­bru­ary rally in El Paso, Texas, the Trump cam­paign says, two-thirds of reg­is­trants had voted in two or fewer of the pre­vi­ous four fed­eral elec­tions. Be­fore a June rally in Or­lando, a geo-tar­geted dig­i­tal cam­paign by a Trump su­per PAC di­rected about 3,000 peo­ple to the state’s voter regis­tra­tion web­site.

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