By, John Avlon and Michael Keller
October 19, 2012
It’s the ability to get your voters to the polls—a way of moving soft support into actual votes.
Field operatives have been undervalued in recent years, as the focus of campaigns has shifted to big-money ad-bombs, compounded by the super-PAC economy. But this presidential campaign is going to come down to a few percentage points in a half dozen states, and suddenly ground game is about to get a lot of respect.
So The Daily Beast decided to map out the Obama and Romney local headquarters across the country as one way of gauging the strength of each campaign’s ground game. And what we found was an overwhelming advantage—755 to 283—by the Obama campaign on at least this one metric.
In the key swing states of this election the numbers are stark:
In Ohio, 122 Obama local HQs compared to 40 for Romney.
In Florida, the Obama campaign has 102 local HQs versus 48 for Romney.
And in Virginia, a more even split—47 for Obama compared to 29 for Romney.
Within these swing states, the placement of these volunteer field offices is predictably stacked in populous swing counties like Hamilton and Stark in Ohio. But the Obama team’s numeric advantage allows them to place local offices in even more rural, red-leaning counties like Union, Muskingum, or Pickaway, which they lost even in the 2008 landslide.
The second tier of swing states also shows the Obama team’s focus on ground game—Iowa, in particular, is shaping up to be a must-win for Obama, and his campaign boasts 66 HQs in the state, compared to just 13 for the Romney campaign. Colorado has 61 Obama offices compared to 14 for Romney. And Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin has 68 Obama HQs as opposed to 24 for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
“If this comes down to a 3 or 4 point race—which it looks like it will—ground game will matter.” says Ed Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan’s landslide 1984 campaign. “And the Obama campaign has invested millions in ground game, going back to a foundation they built in 2008.”
This disparity would seem to reflect a longstanding concern I’ve heard from Republican operatives over the course this year: that the Romney campaign is insular and isolated from the national Republican apparatus. “Trying to run a national campaign out of Boston if you’re not a Democrat is idiotic,” is how one GOP mandarin put it. “You’re surrounded by the enemy. It’s like going to Moscow to negotiate a peace treaty.
Conventional wisdom lays at least some of the blame on the Romney campaign’s colorful and controversial senior adviser Stuart Stevens, who has spent most of his career on the media-strategy side of politics rather than field operations. This perception compounds the historic advantage Democrats have enjoyed when it comes to get-out-the-vote efforts, often aided by unions on Election Day.
“Republicans are not good at ground game—it’s not something we’ve been good at in recent years,” concedes Ed Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan’s landslide 1984 campaign. “If this comes down to a 3 or 4 point race—which it looks like it will—ground game will matter. And the Obama campaign has invested millions in ground game, going back to a foundation they built in 2008.”