Koch network group works to engage voters early in key Senate race

OAKMONT, Pa. — When Americans for Prosperity CEO Emily Seidel approached Andrew McGhee as he swept his porch this month, Seidel told him AFP had endorsed Republican Senate candidate Dave McCormick and asked McGhee whether he is following the Senate race.

McGhee’s response: “Only when I have to.” He added, when he was asked about his thoughts on the coming presidential election, that he’s “enormously disappointed with the top of both tickets for the major parties, and I don’t see what good will come of it if either of them gets elected.”

The interaction highlights some of the deep unrest in the electorate this year — and why AFP is already fanning out into neighborhoods to try to talk about it one on one with voters. The conservative advocacy group, which endorsed Nikki Haley in the GOP presidential primaries, has no plans to endorse in the presidential general election this fall. Instead, it will focus all of its efforts on Senate and House races. AFP Action, the super PAC affiliate of AFP, began door-knocking efforts in Pennsylvania on April 1, with the goal of knocking on more than 1 million doors ahead of the general election.

Some of those conversations are hitting true undecided voters, like McGhee. Despite his misgivings about the presidential contenders, he told Seidel he will vote because he always votes. He told NBC News that he’s not sure whom he’ll support in the Pennsylvania Senate race: “I’ve met [Democratic Sen.] Bob Casey a couple of times in the past and I like him, but I don’t mind McCormick, so I will make up my mind.”

In an interview, Seidel said: “The biggest challenge this cycle is that voters are really frustrated with the political environment, the dysfunction that they see coming out of Washington, D.C. They want solutions, not soundbites. And so they’re looking for leaders who are going to drive on those solutions.”

She added, “We see it as our job to help them see that their voices matter in Senate races and House races across the country, as well.”

The group wasn’t initially planning to sit out the presidential race. But after former President Donald Trump beat Haley in February in South Carolina, her home state, Seidel wrote in an email that AFP Action would stop spending on Haley’s behalf and focus on other races in which it could make a difference on behalf of conservative candidates. In the email to staff members, Seidel wrote that “the U.S. Senate strategy has always been our top priority because it has the best chance of success and of making the greatest difference — it’s the ‘firewall.’”

Ashley Klingensmith, a senior adviser for AFP Action in Pennsylvania, described the rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden as “the rematch that many people will not be excited about.”

She said it’s “refreshing to be able to turn the conversation in a different direction in real time” by campaigning for McCormick in Pennsylvania. “And, like, there are a lot of people that you know, because it’s so early, aren’t totally familiar with every down-ballot race that’s happening.”

While AFP wasn’t able to “turn the page on the past” by endorsing Haley over Trump, Seidel said she believes the way to get people engaged in this election cycle is “by connecting with the issues, because these folks that they elect for local races and for House and Senate in Washington, D.C., these are the people who make the laws. And so we need them to really understand the role of all of these different races.”

McCormick doesn’t have a competitive GOP primary, so AFP Action’s door-knocking effort in Pennsylvania is already focused on November, which Klingensmith called a “golden opportunity.”

Klingensmith said there are three types of voters, from her perspective: the “saints, sinners and savables.”

“We’re thinking about those savables, those folks in the middle that, like, are really just open to talking and policy talking about the ideas,” she said.

Seidel said: “We’re going to be here the entire year, because this is what we do as a grassroots organization.”

Casey campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel responded in a statement: “David McCormick may have the support of the Koch brothers and his Wall Street billionaire backers, but Senator Casey has the support of working people in Pennsylvania."

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com