I have a great number of posts on the incredible performance of the Romney campaign’s ground forces. The same efforts are being made on the Obama side of the ledger and they each have their own unique cultures. The Washington Post embedded a couple reporters on the front lines with both campaigns for an up-close look at the ground troops in Ohio:
A day with Romney and Obama canvassers in this hotly contested area of northeastern Ohio provides a snapshot of what both campaigns cast as the most critical piece of their White House bids: the volunteer-driven, pavement-pounding grind known as the ground game. With millions of dollars being poured into TV advertising, social media and other high-tech strategies, both campaigns say they are more convinced than ever that face-to-face conversations are by far the most effective form of contact with voters, and those efforts are robust than Ohio and the other swing states. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests the importance of all that attention. While the survey found the race to be close nationally — with 49 percent of likely voters siding with Obama and 47 percent with Romney — the disparity is much wider in swing states, with 52 percent siding with Obama and 41 percent with Romney. Roughly a third of all voters in “tossup” states say they’ve heard from each side.
In the case of the Obama campaign, officials say they are mostly dusting off the 2008 playbook, turning into standard practice tactics considered revolutionary four year ago. They are rebuilding networks of “neighborhood leaders” who organize their Zip codes, a system bolstered by vast voter databases. “There’s really no need to mess with success,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. Their Ohio operation: nearly 120 bricks-and-mortar offices across the state with at least 600 paid staffers working with thousands of volunteers who have been phone-banking since late last year and door-knocking since April, according to Redfern. Their Mentor Avenue operation is a long table strewn with hand sanitizer, spare reading glasses and 20 cellphones for phone-banking. The walls are plastered with Obama posters and others outlining neighborhood team events and the organizing mantra “empower, include, win.”
Romney campaign officials say they are placing a much stronger emphasis on door-knocking than phone-calling this time, an effort driven by what they describe as an unprecedented quantity and quality of data. Rich Beeson, the campaign’s political director, said the ground operation, in turn, is heavily focused at the moment on “low-propensity” voters — those who are identified as solid Republicans but who don’t always vote. The goal of door-knockers is to encourage them to vote early — to mail in an absentee ballot or apply for one. “Nationwide, we’ve already knocked on 2 million more doors than we knocked on in 2008,” Beeson said. “We consider door knocks the purest form of voter contact. Ohio week in and week out leads in the metrics we lay out and nationwide.” The Ohio operation, with more than 40 offices deploying thousands of volunteers, hit 137,000 doors across the state last week alone, campaign officials said. The Mentor Avenue operation has 12 black phones set on four white folding tables, with two more phones being unpacked from cardboard boxes this morning. The walls are covered with uniform rows of “Romney-Believe” posters and others of state candidates. “In all our polling, public and private, we are matching them in terms of the number of people who say they’ve heard from both campaigns,” Beeson said. “That tells me that the quality of our data and voter contact program is just as powerful as their offices and staff.”
If the volunteers don’t trash-talk one another, their bosses do. Romney officials roll their eyes at the idea that the Obama team revolutionized grass-roots organizing. “Don’t forget, in 2004 we had the largest ground operation in American history,” Beeson said, referring to George W. Bush’s successful reelection bid. Obama campaign officials scoff at the notion that the GOP camp could possibly be matching them door for door. “I find it hard to believe that a party in disarray just a few months ago about who should be their leader is now knocking on 137,000 doors a week,” Redfern said.
Obama ground effort
Meanwhile, thousands of volunteers know the cold, hard truth: They, on average, have to knock on 10 doors to reach just one or two voters. [Canvassers] carried clipboards with maps and targeted addresses, the result of months of phone calls and personal outreach to identify the people to pitch: persuadable, lukewarm and strong Obama voters, a task that has been more difficult than if was four years ago.“I just think that the level of enthusiasm has mellowed just a bit,” said Gavin-Wagner, who housed out-of-state volunteers in 2008…After nearly two hours, they returned to the office to report their progress: 61 doors, 18 contacts, a typical weekend haul. The data would be processed by volunteers overseen by two paid staffers from New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Romney ground effort
The Romney campaign’s [canvasser] has been knocking on doors almost every day since August. He averaged about 75 a day, except on the afternoon he almost fainted with low blood sugar. And here he was again, arriving on Dearborn Drive, clipboard under his arm, Romney-Ryan brochures in hand. His job on this day was not to convince undecideds but to contact Republican-leaning voters and encourage them to mail in absentee ballots or vote early. “Maybe you’ll hit one out of five houses.” Even on tough days — and this was one — [the canvasser] said he remains optimistic. The Mentor Avenue office has been getting busier… [F]inal tally: 45 doors, five personal contacts.