Political Animal


October 19, 2012 2:44 PM How Do You Measure the Ground Game?

By Ed Kilgore

At Daily Beast today, John Avlon and Michael Keller attempt to assess the quality of the two presidential campaigns’ GOTV “ground games,” but immediately run into different theories of how they should be measured.

Much of the piece focuses on the well-established and very large Obama advantage in the number of field offices in battleground states (with charts supplied!), including particularly large margins in Ohio (122 to 40), Iowa (66 to 13), Colorado (61 to 14) and Wisconsin (68 to 24). But then Team Mitt people are quoted as mocking this metric as insignificant:

“Democrats love to use that metric,” says a frontline GOP operative. “The Obama campaign is a byproduct of the president—big government. But we’re contacting more voters than ever—we just crossed 34 million voter contacts on phones and 6 million doors, blowing past the McCain totals in 2008. The Obama campaign isn’t releasing their numbers, which tells me they don’t have them. So there’s this fallacy that the Obama campaign has this great ground game, but we’re just not seeing it on the ground.”

But then there are also bountiful quotes from Republicans not involved directly in the campaign conceding that the GOP generally gets out-gunned on the ground, and suggesting that the Romney campaign, under media-centric chieftain Stu Stevens, probably hasn’t made any revolutionary advances this year.

So it pretty much comes down to who you believe. And all other things being equal, I’d sure want three-to-one advantages in the number of field offices.

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.


  • FlipYrWhig on October 19, 2012 2:54 PM:

    In what way is a large number of campaign offices like "big government"? What's next? "Oooh, Starbucks has a lot of stores, probably because they believe in 'big government.'"

  • Ronald on October 19, 2012 2:54 PM:

    "The Obama campaign isn’t releasing their numbers, which tells me they don’t have them."

    This line about not releasing numbers is coming from the Romney campaign?

  • Josef K on October 19, 2012 2:58 PM:

    I think it was Tom Clancy of all people who put it best: "Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics."

    On one side there's Stu Stevens seems to think its all about discrete, tactical messaging.

    On the other is a huge boatload of field offices, staffed and worked by locals, all working towards the same end.

    I leave the reader to draw conclusions about which is which.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 19, 2012 3:02 PM:

    But we’re contacting more voters than ever—we just crossed 34 million voter contacts on phones and 6 million doors, blowing past the McCain totals in 2008.

    Erm... Pardon me for asking, but is everyone actually picking up the phone or answering the door? Just askin'... Maybe I don't understand what this is supposed to mean...
    And just who, excactly, is knocking on all these doors if there isn't a ground game in place?

  • c u n d gulag on October 19, 2012 3:02 PM:

    Ralph Reed, that sociopathic Jesus-grifter, does worry me.

    He says that he has a list of 17 or so millions of Evangelicals that they'll contact in a number of different way.

    Hopefully, he's just taking these people's money, ala him and Abramoff with the Native Americans and casino's.

  • JoyceH on October 19, 2012 3:09 PM:

    I suspect the GOP is counting robocalls as voter contacts. I've received so many calls from the RNC that I've lost count. The other day at our little local coordinating meeting for VA GOTV, I asked the OFA guy why the RNC keeps calling me when I'm so blatantly in the Strong Obama column. He say, "The Republicans have no idea who their voters are." The Obama campaign DOES know who their voters are. That's the difference.

  • Ronald on October 19, 2012 3:09 PM:

    number of contacts don't mean a thing if they don't vote.
    Obama's GOTV has been a strong point and that's where the win is.
    GO VOTE.

  • SecularAnimist on October 19, 2012 3:19 PM:

    The GOP's "ground game" consists mostly of voter suppression.

    The only way the GOP can win national elections is by disenfranchising eligible voters through fraud, intimidation and Jim Crow laws.

    And their efforts to do so this year, all over the country, dwarf the massive fraud perpetrated by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris in Florida in the 2000 election.

    If Romney wins this one, that's the reason.

  • Peter C on October 19, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Obama's ground game in 2008 was excellent. His campaign does not seem to be taking it for granted. I expect it will be excellent again.

    The Republican ground game seems to have depended upon the Evangelicals. I think there is a good chance that it will not be as effective as is has been in the past.

    It feels to me like the Republicans are betting more on voter suppression and intimidation. THAT'S the biggest wild card in my opinion.

  • MCD on October 19, 2012 3:37 PM:

    Even though I donated to Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, and I live in Boulder, CO, I have yet to be contacted by phone, door, or flyer/postcard/letter by the Dems (plenty of emails from my close friends Barack, Michelle, Joe and Nancy though).

    But every day I get a 8x11 glossy cardstock ad in the mail telling me how many jobs Obama personally killed, and how he's borrowing 50 bajillion dollars from the Chinese to waste on hookers and blow. I'm even the proud new owner of a "Dreams from my Real Father" dvd!

    Yep, those Repubs got the ground game down pat.

  • rip on October 19, 2012 3:47 PM:

    Yeah, I'll be believing an anonymous GOP operative over physical evidence as to who has the better ground game, sure.

  • zts on October 19, 2012 4:39 PM:

    MCD, do you vote in every election? If you're a regular Democratic voter, OFA isn't going to waste it's time knocking on your door.

  • MCD on October 19, 2012 5:13 PM:

    zts: exactly my point. Obama's camp knows I'm not a persuadable voter, and only hits me up for money.

    Romney's camp has no idea about me. They haven't ever asked me for money, but they think I'm persuadable. And they're using the most expensive ways possible to try to persuade me (short of sending me pallets of cash - which I would be happy to receive, in case any of Rmoney's guys are lurking).

  • romnesiac on October 19, 2012 5:21 PM:

    In Colorado, I get 2-3 phone messages a day from Romney/RNC etc. I get none from Obama/DNC etc. So I can believe the GOP phone operation is large, I'm not sure the number of phone calls they make is much of an indicator of effectiveness.

  • jnfr on October 19, 2012 5:49 PM:

    I live in Jefferson County, CO and volunteered for the Obama campaign in '08. They've been contacting us constantly for months now (we have been unable to help so far due to some family issues, but will be working the last few weeks).

    I have never seen a campaign as organized as Obama's in this county in '08, and Jeffco swung Dem for the first time in 40 years. I hope they pull it off again.

  • exlibra on October 19, 2012 8:00 PM:

    [...] we just crossed 34 million voter contacts on phones and 6 million doors,[...]

    Good to know. Three of those "voter contacts on the phone" were to me -- all were the same, 'dentical, prerecorded message. In each case, I laid down the receiver and let them run off at the mouth, while doing household chores. Put the receiver back in its cradle half an hour or so later. So that's for their "phone contact". The fourth "voter contact" -- again, the same message -- was left on my answering machine. Some "contact".

    As for the door knocking? 6 million? Don't make me laugh. I have knocked on about 100-120 these past three Saturdays and will get another list of 30-40 tomorrow (my b-day present to myself ). Yet I'm but one of 20-30 people who show up for it every weekend, and we're getting more now than we did the first week. True, we go out in pairs, but that's still about 2000 doors that had been knocked on (and true, Sgt Gym Bunny; we get to talk to only about half of the people, at most; "no answer" is a common check box, alas. Those doors we go back to, on another day). And that's in a small, rural Virginia area. Multiply us by every small and large area in Virginia, and I bet we've covered close to 6million doors just here. Multiply us by the entire country...

    I do have to quibble though, with the statements above, that people who're reliable Dem voters don't get bugged. They do. Our lists have both names of voters who might be persuadable, and of those we want to make sure will turn out (Are you planning to vote on Election Day at the polls, or absentee, earlier? If absentee, do you need a ballot request form? If on Election Day, what time are you planning to go? Do you need a ride? Would you like to volunteer either at a phone bank or at door-to-door?). The only ones we leave alone are those who are already volunteering in some way (I'm not on anyone's list to persuade).

    Oh, and did I mention that, with the exception of two paid (and very young) staffers we are all volunteers? And that even the paid staffers depend on their room and board on volunteers? And that we don't even count as an OFA office, because OFA shares a (very small) part of the cost of the office rental, for which the city and county Dem committees have been saving money for 2 years?

    If Repubs can match that, I'll eat my Obama/Biden 2012 button, and the 4More44 one, too.

  • Bo on October 19, 2012 8:06 PM:

    The GOPers favor simplistic and top-down solutions to complex problems so it doesn't surprise me that they think their phone bank operations are hot spit.

    Their conception of retail politics is about as realistic as their candidates' highly impausible and math-challenged tax and economic plans.

    Obama-Biden 2012!

  • Gov't Mule on October 20, 2012 9:15 AM:

    Improving on the McCain-Palin GOTV numbers is not saying much. Back in 2008, I canvassed in Rockingham County, NH for the final two weeks of the election. I spent some time in Portsmouth, but mainly I covered the southern part of the county, especially all the towns near the Mass. border. We never encountered any, except for literally just a handful of people holding some signs at a traffic light on US 1 in Hampton. OTOH, the Obama-Biden presence in the county was massive. I personally visited half a dozen field offices and sub offices and there were probably just as many between Salem and Derry. My point is there was no McCain presence in Rockingham County so beating McCain numbers is nothing to brag about. Privately, I think the GOP is quaking because they simply can't put nearly as many boots on the ground for GOTV and all that Adelson/Koch Kash can't replace local grassroots support.