In Illinois, the GOP is putting the "uber" in "gubernatorial."
Republicans including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist have publicly supported taxi-service disrupter Uber in recent months. Now, the GOP has hopped on the pro-Uber bandwagon.
The Republican Party regularly uses bread-and-butter conservative issues including second-amendment rights and IRS opposition to drum up voter data and donations through online petitions and emails. Yet today the GOP sent an email to supporters asking them to back Uber and "stand up for our free market principles, entrepreneurial spirit and economic freedom."
The Uber message not only is aimed at urban millennials who have come to embrace the cab alternative, it's a way to fight the Democrats in the President's own backyard. The GOP's summer meeting kicked off today in Chicago, Barack Obama's hometown, and where Uber itself has taken on Governor Pat Quinn. Mr. Quinn is running for re-election in a tight race against Republican Bruce Rauner.
Uber's mobile app connects riders with company-vetted drivers nearby and often costs less than a cab. The company has been targeted by politicians at local and state levels for skirting decades of rules and restrictions put in place to regulate the traditional cab industry.
In July the company asked its own customers to sign a petition asking Mr. Quinn to veto a bill that would expanding licensing and insurance requirements applying to taxi drivers to drivers affiliated with car-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The bill awaits the governor's signature.
"The issue is larger than Uber," stated GOP Chairman Reince Priebus in party talking points sent to Ad Age. "How many companies, how many products, how many innovations have died prematurely because the government over-reached and interfered in the free market?"
We can expect to see more of the same messaging from the GOP chair according to GOP Spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski who pointed to the Illinois gubernatorial battle as key to the party's decision to throw down the ride-sharing gauntlet.
"Uber already operates in Chicago, but Uber is the target of new legislation sitting on Quinn's desk that would protect the old, outdated cab system and make doing business more difficult -- and expensive -- for Uber and their customers," noted Ms. Kukowski in her email.
Petitions posted on campaign sites, disseminated in emails and linked on Facebook and Twitter are used ubiquitously by political organizations to collect names, email addresses and other information from potential voters. The emails enable follow-up messages begging for donations. And, possibly more important, the cause-based petitions allow parties and groups to link specific voters to specific issues, allowing them to customize email communications and door-to-door interactions with volunteers.
Of course, this isn't just about the Illinois race. The GOP hopes the Uber issue and the broader pro-innovation message resonates with young urban millennials, a voter demographic that typically supports Democrats, but is expected to sit out this year's midterm elections.
"I think it's a way to broaden their appeal in a way that you're not just talking to the conservative base," said Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of political research and analytics firm Echelon Insights and former RNC eCampaign director from 2005 to 2007.
"We're talking about young professionals in urban areas who are users of [Uber] who might not be traditionally inclined to support Republican candidates…but might be open to a messages about government regulation based on something that they experience every day that might get taken away."
Mr. Rubio visited Uber's Washington offices in March to highlight the company's regulatory woes, then discussed his visit on CNBC, describing Uber as "a car service company which is not being allowed to enter many markets in Florida simply because the established taxi cabs and the established transportation companies don't want the competition. That was never the reason for regulation."
In a July Reuters opinion piece titled, "How Uber Can Help the GOP Gain Control of the Cities," influential tax fighter Grover Norquist argued that "many of these innovative new businesses were birthed in California's Bay Area, a Democratic stronghold. They are favorites of city dwellers, which means most of the leading Democratic constituencies -- including educated professionals, gays, minorities, single women and working mothers. This puts Democratic politicians in an awkward position because influential stakeholders like taxi commissions and their unions worry about competition from these innovators."