Ex-Republican chair stresses 365-day strategy

Associated Press

Lansing — Bobby Schostak, the departing state party chairman who helped Republicans keep their grip on all three branches of government over four years, said Michigan’s improved tactics and technology should be a model for the GOP elsewhere.

Among the changes instituted under his watch is reaching out to voters an entire two-year cycle, he said, not just the months before an election. Permanent field offices have been established as opposed to only temporary “victory centers.”

The party also built a web-based tool to help better identify and stay in touch with voters along with a mobile app for getting out the vote on Election Day.

Schostak, who became chairman after serving as finance chair during Republicans’ successful 2010 election, said he sought to preserve and add to the Michigan Republican Party’s status as one of the top parties in the country.

“It was my goal to … make it the gold standard of the way things should be going forward — from an operating level, from a ground game (perspective) and to professionalize as much as possible what is essentially a volunteer activity,” he told The Associated Press on Friday.

At the state convention just over a week ago, Republican activists elected his successor, Ronna Romney McDaniel, after he decided against running again. Schostak, 59, who also runs a Livonia commercial real estate company with his family, is leaving largely on a high note.

Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson won re-election in November. Republicans kept their edge on the Supreme Court and expanded their legislative majorities to 63-47 in the House — same as when Schostak first took the helm — and 27-11 in the Senate, one seat more than before.

“Nobody was expecting that,” Schostak said, saying the targets were between 56 and 61 House seats and 24 to 26 Senate seats. “It was a direct result of the micro level of precinct operations that we had going on the … the 19 months prior, where we were in working communities, working the voters, training the volunteers, developing technology to have an impact really on a micro level. It’s expensive, time-consuming and tedious but made the difference.”

By the 2016 election, when Democrats will benefit from increased voter turnout for the presidential election, the GOP will have controlled the governorship and Legislature for nearly six straight years.

What Schostak could not do during his tenure was end Republicans’ poor performance in statewide federal elections.

Barack Obama easily won Michigan again, the sixth straight victory for a Democratic presidential candidate. Sen. Debbie Stabenow trounced her opponent. Sen. Carl Levin’s retirement was an opportunity, but Gary Peters won in a rout despite Democratic Senate candidates struggling in other states.

Schostak said while there is no denying that Michigan favors Democrats in presidential elections, Republicans are in their “strongest position in a long time” to have a “better shot” at delivering the state because of advances in technology, voter canvassing, minority outreach and data collection.

“A candidate way to the right may not win in Michigan. The candidate who portrays maybe a more centrist, middle-of-the-road right probably could be more successful in Michigan,” he said.

Converting to a 365-day-a-year grassroots operation and getting involved in important local issues should help Republicans reach more independent voters, he said.

“You’ve got to stay in touch with your customer. You’ve got to earn the business every day.”

Schostak plans to stay active in helping the state party and also expects to soon get more involved at the national level. He said he has no intention of signing onto a presidential campaign for the “foreseeable future.”

Asked about Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, who has refused Republicans’ calls for him to resign for derogatory Facebook posts and links to articles about gays, Muslims and African-Americans, Schostak said Agema had made “bad” choices that were “very unfortunate and very offensive to all of us.” Agema cannot be removed unless he has committed a felony, Schostak said.

“It’s affected fundraising, it’s affected perception, it’s given ammunition, rhetoric to the other side. But it’s beyond partisan, it’s just inappropriate conduct.”