Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The ground game
Beyond the presidential debates, one final factor matters more than all the rest in a close race: ground game.

It’s the ability to get your voters to the polls—a way of moving soft support into actual votes.
Field operatives have been undervalued in recent years, as the focus of campaigns has shifted to big-money ad-bombs, compounded by the super-PAC economy. But this presidential campaign is going to come down to a few percentage points in a half dozen states, and suddenly ground game is about to get a lot of respect.

So The Daily Beast decided to map out the Obama and Romney local headquarters across the country as one way of gauging the strength of each campaign’s ground game. And what we found was an overwhelming advantage—755 to 283—by the Obama campaign on at least this one metric.
In the key swing states of this election the numbers are stark:
In Ohio, 122 Obama local HQs compared to 40 for Romney.
In Florida, the Obama campaign has 102 local HQs versus 48 for Romney.
And in Virginia, a more even split—47 for Obama compared to 29 for Romney.”

The Tea Party ground game
Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-aligned group part-funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, is building a state-of-the-art digital ground operation in Ohio and other vital battleground states to spread its anti-Obama message to voters who could decide the outcome of the presidential election.”

The quality of the ground games
It's not about how many people you contact; it's who you're contacting and how. In 2008, the Obama campaign took data-based voter targeting to a previously unseen level, as Sasha Issenberg details in his new book The Victory Lab. In 2012, they've far surpassed those techniques, in part by integrating field techniques with digital operations.

Some Republicans admit that the ground game is a weakness for the party. In Colorado, one top GOP consultant who has worked on presidential campaigns told me he mentally added 2 to 4 points to Obama's polls in the state based on superior organization. In Florida, GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Republicans would win in other ways: "They're very organized. They're very, very organized, and you have to admit they're very organized," Diaz-Balart said of the Democrats. "However, I think Republicans are very motivated."

We may not be able to fully size up the campaigns' ground games and their effect until Election Day -- and maybe not even then. But what struck me most, in talking to Republicans about their ground game, was the extent to which they admitted they weren't even playing the game. On Obama's voter registration advantage, for example, Wiley said it just wasn't something Republicans had really tried to do.

"We did some voter registration programs. They weren't massive in size, because most Republicans are already registered," he said. (This is somewhat belied by the GOP's hiring of a sketchy registration contractor in Florida.) Instead of trying to register more Republicans, Wiley said, the RNC focused its efforts on talking to independents. "That's much more reliable, because they're already registered to vote," he said. "There are enough voters on file in any given state that are registered to vote already that you can win with them. You don't need to add to the mix."

It's true that the Obama campaign's strategy is far more reliant on bringing new voters into the electorate -- particularly the young and minority voters who are less likely to register and vote. But if the Democrats can do that, it could make a big difference in a close election.

"If there's a blowout election, the ground game is nice," Bird, the Obama field director, said. "But in a state-by-state close contest for electoral votes, where it's deadlocked going in, if you know you expanded the electorate, and you know who those people are, and you have volunteers trained to turn them out -- that's what the ground game is engineered to do."


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