Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) – Just outside Las Vegas, a powerful new political group is conducting an experiment.
American Crossroads, the third party organization advised by Karl Rove, sent volunteers into neighborhoods outside the city to get out the vote for Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle. But it wasn't your typical get out the vote effort. CNN got an exclusive look.
Volunteers were armed with iPads. The iPad software directed each volunteer to homes pre-selected by the group. As the volunteers asked questions and filled in the answer on the iPad, the information was sent back real time to a database controlled by American Crossroads.
"This new technology will allow us to regain the technological edge when it comes to contacting voters for elections," says American Crossroads communications director Jonathan Collegio. He acknowledges Republicans started losing that edge in 2006 and then watched it "slip to the Democrats" when then-candidate Obama built a massive database built on new voters reached through social media.
Collegio estimates the group is spending about $1 million on this and other get out the vote operations in ahead of the midterm election. They've deployed 50 iPad wielding volunteers in Nevada and Colorado - two closest Senate races in the nation. They'll knock on approximately 24,000 doors in each state.
"We are deploying this as an experiment. But the idea is that we can expand it on a larger scale for governors races in 2011 and then deploy it in a much larger scale for the presidential elections in 2012," Collegio explains.
Republicans don't have a lock on new technology. Organizing for America, the voter contact group that grew out of the Obama campaign, already has an iPad application of its own. The group also boasts a sophisticated database with detailed information about voters and the issues that motivate them. They say their own volunteers made 6.2 million contacts with voters this past weekend alone and 75 million voter contacts in the last six months.
American Crossroads is convinced this new technology will help them compete. Once they work out the kinks, the application will be loaded with new questions, asking voters what issues they care about most – taxes, jobs, social issues. With that kind of detailed information the group can then customize messages to each household.
Their vision is a decentralized process – that relies on volunteers working on their own timetable in their own neighborhoods. Says Collegio, "The old model is that volunteers would show up on a Saturday morning and do all of their get out the vote on a Saturday and Sunday morning. Now we will be in a situation where a voter will be able to download the app, download their walk book and they can do it in their spare time." He adds "all of that information is going back to the central database and it will provide a much more effective and efficient way to reach these voters. "
Kelly Nallen is an American Crossroads staffer who has used the iPad application. She says one advantage of using the iPad is – it intrigues voters. She says "It is great because people are really interested in the technology" so they are more likely to answer her questions.
American Crossroads has also hired paid canvassers to knock on about 150,000 doors in Washington state and 120,000 doors in Colorado - two states where Republican Senate candidates are in tight races for Senate seats currently held by Democrats.
What it all means? Soon enough the parties and outside groups are going to have such detailed information about each of us they can target us with specialized messages – not just customized mail and phone calls but someday perhaps customized ads - to try and drive our votes the way Madison Avenue tries to drive our spending habits.