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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Have Ground Game Edge One Month Out

From “Ground Game: Democrats Started Fall with 5-to-1 Paid Staff Advantage” by Alex Seitz-Wald, Didi Martinez and Carrie Dann at NBC News:

Democrats entered the fall campaign with an army of paid staffers close to five times the size of Republicans’ according to an NBC News analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

At the end of August, the most recent date for which data is available, Democrats employed at least 4,200 people working to elect Hillary Clinton, with about 800 at the Clinton campaign, 400 at the Democratic National Committee, and nearly 3,000 on the payrolls of state parties in 13 battleground states, which typically employ a majority of field organizers.

Republicans, meanwhile, employed about 880 people during the same period, with about 130 at the Donald Trump campaign, another 270 at the Republican National Committee, and roughly 480 at the 13 state parties.

The authors point out that “the disparity is not dissimilar to 2012” and Republicans claim to have “a head start in deploying national field staffers back in 2013, long before Democrats.” However, in 13 battlegound states analyzed  “The tally also does not reflect the activities of allied outside organizations, such as labor unions, political action committees and interest groups,” nor does it specifiy what the staffers and volunteers of both parties actually do.

Democrats have a clear edge in what is quantifiable about their ‘ground game,’ but data on the quality of the field operations is lacking. Further,

“The RNC’s ground game is far ahead of a Clinton ground game that amounts to a cubicle factory,” chief strategist Sean Spicer said in a memo to reporters last month, adding that “the media has fallen for the Clinton camp’s false narrative that equates having a lot of campaign offices with having a superior field organization.”


Mitch Stewart, who ran the battleground states program for Obama in 2012, argues that volunteers are not replacements for staff, saying the roughly 10,000 top-tier volunteers Obama’s campaign recruited four years ago depended on paid organizers to function. And he said the RNC’s recent hires come too late.

“It’s just too late to build a massive volunteer effort,” he said. “The later you hire staff, the less impact you’re going to see on the number of votes they can get.”

…As of the end of August, Democrats had more than five times the number of staffers than Republicans did on the payrolls of their respective state parties in Florida (about 520 to around 100), more than three times as many in Ohio (about 360 to roughly 90), and roughly ten times as many in Virginia (approximately 270 to 30), Pennsylvania (roughly 450 to 40) and North Carolina (300 to 20).

With the GOP’s new infusion of staff, they’ve cut that disparity to roughly 2-to-1 in Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina, though the gap remains wider in Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia.

It certainly looks like the Trump campaign is betting everything on his ability to mobilize and excite  voters independent of minimal Republican GOTV operations. Put that together with the campaign’s relatively small expenditure on ads thus far, and it appears that Trump ’16 will surely be the most minimalist presidential campaign of the modern era.

That’s an awfully big bet on the power of charisma alone, especially for a candidate who may end up mobilizing more votes against him than for him with his every utterance. It looks like Trump’s best hope would be a combination of Democratic defections to the Libertarians and Greens, coupled with complaisancy about voting on the part of regular Democratic voters. The trend at this political moment is in the opposite direction.

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