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Operation Hilarity in Election 2012

Strategy Employs Crossover Voters in Open Primaries


Markos Moulitsas

Daily Kos website founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas speaks during a taping of the Meet the Press.

Alex Wong / Getty Images News

Operation Hilarity is a term used to describe the effort by Democratic activists to influence the Republican presidential nomination process to benefit President Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012.

Operation Hilarity was a strategic effort to encourage Democratic voters in states that held open primaries and caucuses to vote for a weak or underdog Republican candidate in hopes of prolonging the party's nomination process.

An open primary or caucus is one in which voters can vote in either the Democratic or Republican event regardless of their party affiliation.

Organizers of Operation Hilarity worked on the theory that the longer the Republican candidates were forced to do battle with each other the less chance the eventual GOP nominee had of defeating Obama, a Democrat seeking his second term in the White House.

Operation Hilarity in Election 2012

Operation Hilarity was organized during the 2012 Republican primaries and caucuses, including on Super Tuesday, by activist Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder and publisher of Daily Kos, a popular blog among liberals and Democrats.

In announcing Operation Hilarity on his blog, Moulitsas was clear about the motive: to take an "active role in the GOP nomination process" and boost the re-election chances not only of Obama but other Democratic candidates lower on the ballot that same year.

"The longer this GOP primary drags on, the better the numbers for Team Blue," Moulitsas wrote. "Not only is President Barack Obama rising in comparison to the clowns in the GOP field, but GOP intensity is down — which would have repercussions all the way down the ballot.

"The longer this thing drags out, the more unpopular the Republican presidential pretenders become," wrote Moulitsas.

Operation Hilarity Details

Operation Hilarity sought to drum up support for Republicans presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator who was popular among Tea Party conservatives and evangelical voters but prone to controversy, was seen as a weaker candidate and less formidable general-election opponent than GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

Operation Hilarity was not unlike previous attempts to make mischief in open primary states. In 2008, for example, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh launched Operation Chaos to urge Republican voters to prolong the race for the Democratic nomination by voting for underdog Hillary Clinton instead of Obama.

Operation Hilarity in Michigan

Operation Hilarity organizers specifically targeted Democratic voters in states with open primaries and caucuses including Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.

In Michigan, Santorum played along and actively courted Democratic voters to support him in the February 2012 primary. Santorum's campaign paid for robocalls to Democratic voters that were sharply critical of Romney's opposition of the auto bailout.

"Romney supported the bailout for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailout," the robocall script read. "That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker. And we’re not going to let Romney get away with it.”

The robocall ended: "This call is supported by hard-working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for President."

Operation Hilarity Effectiveness

Despite the effort by Democrats to make mischief in the Republican primary in Michigan, Romney still won the popular vote, albeit narrowly. The former Massachusetts governor got 41.4 percent to Santorum's 37.9 percent.

Still, Moulitsas described Operation Hilarity a success in Michigan, Romney's home state. He cited exit polls showing 53 percent of the Democratic voters sided with Santorum compared to just 18 percent for Romney.

"What should've been a Romney romp in the popular vote became an embarrassing nailbiter," he wrote. "And what should've been a delegate sweep became an embarrassing split—after spending $4.3 million in his home state."

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