Political Animal

Blog

August 24, 2012 10:40 AM Three Votes and a Cloud of Dust

By Ed Kilgore

If Mitt Romney and his supporters are building up a significant financial advantage for paid media in the stretch drive of the campaign, the Obama campaign is hoping to counter with heavy investments in turnout infrastructure. WaPo’s T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen try to quantify it, at least anecdotally:

When President Obama campaigned in Las Vegas on Wednesday, his aides had laid the groundwork by opening 18 field offices around the city. Mitt Romney’s state operation has opened three.
In the critical battleground state, the Nevada Democratic Party has been building staff for two years and now has nearly 200 people organizing volunteers, knocking on doors, registering voters and compiling lists of supporters. Romney’s Nevada campaign is backed up by about 40 workers.
In Ohio, another closely fought swing state, the Democratic state party employs nearly 300 people, more than the Republican National Committee in Washington, and almost four times as many as the Ohio GOP.
That gap in the candidates’ ground efforts is mirrored around the country as the presidential contest heads into its final weeks, with Democratic campaign workers outnumbering Republicans nearly three to one, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign spending reports.

There’s a lot more in the story about various cellphone apps useful in person-to-person contacts and plenty of taunts back and forth between the two campaigns, with Obama’s folk saying Romney’s are getting killed in the “ground game” while Romney’s folk say Obama’s folk are wasting money on payrolls for people who are just sitting around.

Out here in Central California, remote from any actual GOTV activity to speak of (except for some labor efforts to defeat the nasty and deceptive anti-union Proposition 32, the latest in an endless series of “paycheck protection” measures), it’s hard for me to judge who’s making the smartest investments. Certainly the GOTV-first philosophy of the Obama campaign makes sense in this particular cycle, with its exceptionally low percentage of undecided voters and the likelihood of an “enthusiasm drop-off” from 2008 among both younger and minority voters, even as the Republican “base” whips itself up into an unprecedented hate-frenzy. It’s also reasonably well-settled that there is a point of diminishing returns in the value of paid-media efforts in presidential elections—a point Team Mitt may be reaching or exceeding this year.

But as always, the competence with which the two campaigns carry out their strategies may matter more than their inherent wisdom. And while both operations have a reasonably good reputation for past performance (in particular, Romney’s willingness to authorize or countenance negative advertising of the most vicious and mendacious nature seems limitless), it is noteworthy that Team Red has had to spend a lot of time dealing with wounds self-inflicted by the candidates and other major GOP pols. That “X Factor” could ultimately make as much of a difference as the strategies deployed or the resources available to execute them.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • steve on August 24, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Comparing Obama's GOTV organization to Romney's is dumb. The real comparison is to the paid GOTV organization Koch and company operates. What are the numbers there.

  • c u n d gulag on August 24, 2012 10:57 AM:

    I lived in Fayetteville, NC during the last Presidential election.
    For those who may not know, that's a military town - the home of Fort Bragg.

    And the ground game was critical to Obama's win in the primary and the general.
    Hillary had one small field office, mostly empty except for the same handful of people - probably thinking that a military town would go for her as the Democratic candidate. We had hundreds of volunteers in the office and out in the field.
    In the general, McCain had virtually no presence - again, probably saving money, figuring a military town was his anyway.

    When I wasn't volunteering, taking a needed evening off, I'd watch the various cable news channels.
    I had a DVR, so whenever a campaign ad I'd already seen, whether for Obama or McCain, I'd fast-forward through it, since I almost never had time to watch live.

    Then, because of my job, I ended up in Wilmington, NC, for a month before the election, and 2 weeks after it. I was staying in some sh*tty residence hotel, and, when I wasn't helping out the Obama campaign in that town, stayed in an watched the cable news shows.
    WITHOUT A DVR!
    Jayzoos H. Keerist in early morning infomercials!
    There was NO END to the political ads - for McCain AND Obama, to the point where you wanted to throw something at the TV.
    When it was time for commercials, I'd switch to ESPN, or something else, just to get away from them.

    If I wasn't actively involved, I'd have gotten sick of both candidates and their ads, and I have no doubt that some people stayed home because they'd just gotten barraged with too may ads, and no longer gave a sh*t who won, as long as the ads stopped.

    So yeah, I think ground game is still more important than media saturation.

    But, after all, who knows?
    As much as people on the phones call, and volunteers walkd, money DOES talk!

  • smartalek on August 24, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Wow.
    They just can't help themselves, can they?
    I'm usually the last person to see -- or hear, I guess -- a racialist dog-whistle.
    But this:
    "Obama’s folk are wasting money on payrolls for people who are just sitting around"
    is messed up.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 24, 2012 11:30 AM:

    Just a thought, but maybe we should remember how Team Romney fared during the primaries.

    Wherever the Santorum Ground Game was playing, and to a lesser extent Ron Paul's, his folks definitely leveled the playing field against the R-Money Campaigned Ad Machine. Santorum may not have won every primary but his campaign new how to get their supporters to rock the vote to keep him pretty competitive (in the loose sense of the word) for so long.

    True, Romney was able to dispatch of the little nuisance by virtue of Santorum's unappealing bat-shit craziness, but Romney isn't going to have that luxury of absurdity from the Obama campaign. Team Obama is definitely going to bring the Ground Game hard in light of the GOP's voter ID laws, and Obama certainly doesn't have the cretin-ish "Ick-Factor" that automatically handicapped Santorum's run in the primaries.

    So Romney got--dare I say it--creamed by Santorum wherever Team Santorum hit the streets. But he wants to believe that Obama--President of the U.S. of A Obama--and his ground game will be ineffective? If Icky Ricky's ground game made Romney sweat something awful, Team Obama's ground game could definitely have Romney pissin' a shit. I'm just sayin'...

  • exlibra on August 24, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Ever since the Citizens United, I began to suspect that we'll never be able to out-fundraise them. Our only chance is in outworking them, both with paid staffers and volunteers (like myself).

    So, while I still send a modest contribution to a candidate of my choice every now and then, most of my resources are directed at keeping the Dem HQ in our town (we share the premises with the OFA)open and well stocked with snacks and cold drinks for those who make the phone calls and go on the door-to-door treks in this heat. And cramming as many talking points as my two grey cells can hold, for arguments at various community fairs where we also try to have a presence.

    OK. Off to a working lunch at the HQ; see y'all in the late afternoon/evening.

  • smartalek on August 24, 2012 11:54 AM:

    "So Romney got--dare I say it--creamed by Santorum"

    Ew.
    Thank you so much for that image, which, once seen, can never be un-seen.

  • Lifelong Dem on August 24, 2012 12:07 PM:

    I've been saying all along that this election is going to be all about the turnout. The only way Democrats can win is to make sure NO Democrat stays home on November 6.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 24, 2012 12:13 PM:

    On another note, if I were an undecided voter who didn't have any flaming political biases, whose appeal would I be more likely to heed? The side that blared TV ads at every commercial break? Or the side that sends an actual human being to my front door step and chats me up about their candidate?

    I think its human nature for people to respond positively to a direct and personal appeal. Of course, the response is definitely contingent on any passions of the voter. But since we're talking about the Undecided, I think it's a pertinent point.

    If someone showed up at my front door (and I actually opened the door), and gave me a nice presentation on their candidate for some random election that I was minimally concerned about, I would definitely be partial to that candidate. Hell, I once signed a petition to have speed bumps added to my street to prevent speeding, not even realizing that I was a primary offender!!!! And like Gulag points out, commercials can be annoying. They're obviously annoying in principle because they interrupt the best part of a show, but repetitive commercials are just intolerably grating.

  • Gretchen on August 24, 2012 12:13 PM:

    The swing-state ground game is great, but I long for the days of Dean's 50-state strategy here in blood-red Kansas. The Democratic party here didn't manage to find an opponent, any opponent at all, to our skinny-dipping representative, Kevin Yoder. I thought he was beatable even before we heard about his Israel exploits, but we can't beat him with a blank on the Democratic side.

  • Jeff In Ohio on August 24, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Here in GOP heavy south western Ohio can assure you the Obama ground game has been in motion since last FALL when OFA came into town and started the process of putting neighborhood teams back together. No one is sitting around unless we have phones in our ears. I've been canvassing for votes every weekend and phone banking since the beginning of June.

  • Jeff In Ohio on August 24, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Here in GOP heavy south western Ohio the Obama ground game has been in motion since last FALL when OFA came into town and started the process of putting neighborhood teams back together. I can assure you no one is sitting around unless we have phones in our ears and even fewer are getting paid. I've been canvassing for votes every weekend and phone banking since the beginning of June.

    AND GOOD LORD CAPTCHA BLOWS!!!!

  • Jeff In Ohio on August 24, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Here in GOP heavy south western Ohio the Obama ground game has been in motion since last FALL when OFA came into town and started the process of putting neighborhood teams back together. I can assure you no one is sitting around unless we have phones in our ears and even fewer are getting paid. I've been canvassing for votes every weekend and phone banking since the beginning of June.

    AND GOOD LORD CAPTCHA BLOWS!!!!

  • grandpa john on August 24, 2012 1:26 PM:

    If someone showed up at my front door (and I actually opened the door), and gave me a nice presentation on their candidate for some random election that I was minimally concerned about, I would definitely be partial to that candidate.
    This. 2 years ago a person running for a city council seat in my town did this. As I became engaged in talking with her in a conversation that stretched out to about 20 minutes, I became aware of her real concern for our town , her enthusiasm for better local govt and the fact that she was very intelligent and had a good knowledge of how things should be. Despite this and my vote for her she lost the election to a home town local. She is running this year for mayor and I well remember her from then and will definitely vote for her again. Here in the rural south, finding competent, capable candidates to run for local offices is rare, and getting them elected over all the good ol boy ,born and raised local red necks is even rarer.

  • Polar Bear Squares on August 24, 2012 3:09 PM:

    Central California? Bakersfieldsian here. (Not sure if that's a word). I'mma lurker. I read the site and your work but I rarely comment. But the Central California remark picqued my interest. Grew up in Bakersfield. Lived in Fresno for a while.

    I'm currently on New Mexico/Texas border. I've seen the Obama GOTV and its impressive. But I've also seen the money behind Romney/RNC/SuperPac juggernaut and it is impressive as well. I think the ads are deplorable but they are effective.

    As a Obama supporter I can't say I'm sure which will win out.

  • Doug on August 24, 2012 9:07 PM:

    I seem to recall several elections last century where the incumbent was outspent and still won. I'm thinking of 1936, 1940 and 1948, but there may be others. And if I'm not mistaken, in 1932 the incumbent 'way outspent his opponent and still lost.
    Slightly OT, but has anyone considered that the various Romney ads we've discussed may be more directed to the Republican BASE rather than trying to convince undecided voters? FSM knows it would fit the Republican mentality: "If I can't out-and-out pay people to vote for me, I'll pay people to convince voters to vote for me!" If it's looked at as a sort an "out-sourcing" of the campaign, it's actually completely in character!
    Whether it's due to financial constraints or fears of voter suppression (most likely a mix), I find the fact that Democrats are relying on people talking to people to get out the vote to be a very positive sign.
    There's nothing Republicans fear more than an informed voter...

  • NCSun on August 24, 2012 10:44 PM:

    Obama HQ in Durham NC is bigger than '08. Staff & volunteers working long hours registering voters (thousands since spring), canvassing, phone banking, entering data, strategizing. Definitely not sitting around. Very motivated, energetic, diverse group.