Democratic activists who urged party members to vote for Rick Santorum in Michigan in order to prolong the GOP fight are expanding their operation to Super Tuesday states, which include several open primaries. In a new twist, they may also start boosting Newt Gingrich’s campaign as well.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who organized the original “Operation Hilarity” on Daily Kos, declared the Michigan operation a success in a post on Thursday based on exit polling that showed a number of liberal Democrats voted for Santorum. He also identified three Super Tuesday states that allow crossover voting — North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont — as the next battlegrounds in the prank war.
Already, Daily Kos is running web ads in North Dakota targeting Democrats and providing instructions for how to participate in the state’s caucus. Organizers tell TPM they have high hopes for influencing the results given expectations of low turnout.
Moulitsas is now considering adding an additional open primary to his hit list: Georgia, where Newt Gingrich is hoping to revive his flagging campaign.
“I had originally ruled Georgia out, but I think I may have flubbed that one,” he told TPM in an e-mail. “I’ll research it more today to see if we can engage there — on behalf of Gingrich.”
Joe DiSano, a Democratic strategist in Michigan who ran robocalls ahead of the primary calling on liberals to vote against Romney credited his effort with helping put Santorum over the edge in several closely contested districts. While Santorum lost the popular vote, his district-level wins mean he’ll receive the same amount of delegates as Romney. While DiSano says his work is strictly limited to Michigan, he urged Democrats in other states to organize their own operations to get out the vote for Santorum.
“I can look anyone in the eye and say our process of robocalling and IDing supporters and the 200,000 emails we sent out moved at least six delegates to Santorum,” he said.
There is potential for backfire, however. Mitt Romney’s campaign is making Santorum’s own use robocalls targeting Democrats a central talking point this week, arguing such tactics are a dirty trick. Santorum argues that, unlike the Daily Kos crowd, his campaign was reaching out to conservative Democrats who might potentially support him in November.
“We certainly have said from day one … one of the reasons we are best suited to beat Barack Obama is our appeal to Reagan Democrats,” Santorum strategist John Brabender told reporters Wednesday.
Perhaps the most critical state where Democrats could make mischief in is Ohio, where polls show Santorum has a chance to defeat Romney. While Democrats cannot technically participate in the primary, voters are allowed to change their affiliation on the spot. Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern told reporters on Thursday that the state party would not try to send its voters to mess with the GOP race, but he declined to discourage others from doing so.
“I encourage people to make their vote based on the collection of issues and facts and determinations,” he said. “In this case if you’re an autoworker at Jeep, your job is there because the taxpayers of this country led by the president and Democrats in Congress … said we ought to have a robust and growing American automobile industry.”
Moulitsas told TPM he was ruling out Ohio and states with similar rules for his own operation because they would require lying about one’s party loyalty. Daily Kos e-mails to Democrats interested in participating in North Dakota’s caucus also instruct them to leave if they are asked to sign a loyalty pledge to the GOP.
But robocalls and e-mail blasts are very cheap: DiSano says he spent only $600 on his and Santorum’s aides pegged the cost of their own automated outreach to Democrats at $2,000. It would not be surprising to see a progressive activist decide to take up the charge.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.