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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

An Inside Look at Obama’s Ground Game

There’s an encouraging chart for Democrats at Molly Ball’s National Journal post, “Obama’s Ground Game Could Win Him the Election.” It’s just a simple, blue and red bar graphs chart counting campaign field offices in three states, FL, OH and VA. It shows the Obama campaign boasting more than twice as many field offices as the Romney campaign in VA and FL, and more than three times the number of field offices in Ohio. In addition, notes Ball,

…The political operative’s rule of thumb is that organization can increase your share of the vote by 2 percentage points; Obama won the national popular vote [in 2008] by 7 points. One academic study looked at Obama’s edge in field offices and concluded they probably put a couple of extra states in his column, but he would have won without them.
This year is different. The polls are so close that a lively partisan meta-fight has broken out over which side actually has the upper hand going into the final stretch, with Romney claiming momentum is on his side, while Obama clings to slim leads in enough swing states to take the Electoral College. In an election that’s tied in the polls going down to the wire, Obama’s ground game could be crucial.

Ball says that Obama has more than 800 field offices across the U.S., while Romney has about 300 and notes

But the difference isn’t just quantitative, it’s qualitative….These basic characteristics were repeated in all the offices I visited: The Obama offices were devoted almost entirely to the president’s reelection; the Republican offices were devoted almost entirely to local candidates, with little presence for Romney…In a technical sense, the Romney campaign actually does not have a ground game at all. It has handed over that responsibility to the Republican National Committee, which leads a coordinated effort intended to boost candidates from the top of the ticket on down.

Ball quotes Obama’s national field director, Jeremy Bird,

“Community organizing is not a turnkey operation,” Bird says. “You can’t throw up some phone banks in late summer and call that organizing. These are teams that know their turfs — the barber shops, the beauty salons; we’ve got congregation captains in churches. These people know their communities. It’s real, deep community organizing in a way we didn’t have time to do in 2008.”

Ball adds,

Democrats also say they have an edge in early voting in states where it has begun. In Iowa, Nevada, and North Carolina, more Democrats than Republicans had cast ballots as of Monday. In Ohio, more votes had been cast from precincts Obama won in 2008 than from precincts won by McCain. In Florida, more Republicans had cast ballots — absentee balloting is typically a GOP strength in the state, and early voting, which Democrats tend to dominate, has not yet begun. But Florida Democrats note that Republicans’ early advantage is reduced from this point in 2008.
Republicans counter that their partisans are outperforming their share of voter registration in early and absentee voting in many states, and that they are getting out more voters than 2008. But to the Obama campaign, the voting statistics are evidence that they are shaping an electorate to look different than the public polls. “We think that people aren’t always getting it right about who and what this electorate is going to be comprised on Election Day,” Messina said. “We continue to think there’s going to be a higher percentage of minority and young people than some are forecasting.”

Ball says, “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.” She gives Obama Field Director Bird the conclusion of her post: “…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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