Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

It’s all about the Ground Game

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In 2008, Barack Obama revolutionized the ground game of the Democratic Party, propelling him into the Presidency. The ability to use local, grassroots politics in many states during the primary helped Obama beat out Hillary Clinton for the nomination. With organizations already in place in most states, Obama easily won the general election over John McCain, whose campaign severely lacked organization in many states.

Now, the ground game looks like it could be the deciding factor in the 2012 election. Both candidates have created massive organizations in key battleground states. They seek to turn out the vote of the party faithful and court undecided voters.

With most of his offices and staff still in key states, Obama has had a major head start in the ground game battle for the general election. Republicans, after being devastated in the 2008 ground game, are making great strides to build greater organization in the 2012 election. So far they have, but many question whether it will be enough to overcome the President’s ground game.

The Obama Campaign’s Advantage

Being the incumbent President has its advantages, including being able to organize a reelection campaign fairly easily. Even with an early advantage, the campaign has sought to increase organizational efforts for the 2012 race. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina announced that the campaign will knock on 150 percent more doors than 2008, and register 150 percent more voters.

Obama is also ahead in campaign offices and volunteers in many states. For example, Obama has over 140 offices in Ohio, whereas Romney only has around 40. Ohio is a key battleground state that many say is a must-win for Romney. Strategists say that the lack of Romney offices in battleground states proves that he is behind in the organization game, and at this point may not be able to catch up.

With the ability to staff high numbers of volunteers in battleground states, the Obama campaign claims it will be able to register more voters and contact voters to bring them to the polls. If the campaign can truly convince high numbers of voters to come out on Election Day, Romney will have a tough time winning the election.

The Romney Response

To correct the lack of organization in the 2008 campaign, the RNC has been assisting the Romney campaign in his ground game for the 2012 election. The campaign has been working at voter registration and voter contact at higher levels than ever before for the Republican Party.

The Romney campaign specifically points to the fact that the campaign has already contacted more voters at this point in the race than had been in all of 2008 for McCain. Furthermore, the number of registered Republican voters has increased drastically in many key battleground states. Romney strategists have pointed out that national polls ignore this fact, and if they can convince these new Republican voters to come out on Election Day, they will be able to carry many key states.

Romney advisors also claim that internal polls indicate the race is much closer than national polls let on. The campaign states that although Romney is behind in the number of offices in many states, the quality of those offices and voter contacts are superior to those of Obama. Essentially, Romney may be able to keep up with Obama ground game with a smaller staff, which would give him a major advantage in the general election.

The Wild Card: Money

Money can give candidates an advantage in the election if they can outspend their amounts by huge amounts. This occurred in 2008, with Obama outraising and outspending John McCain by record amounts. Obama’s large amounts of money allowed him to fund a massive ground game and advertising campaign to win over voters.

In 2012, the advantage of money seems to have fallen into Republican hands. Up until August, Mitt Romney’s team had outraised Barack Obama’s every single month since April. However, the RNC outraised the DNC by $23 million in August. Most of that money will go to assist the candidates, meaning Romney still outraised Obama in one aspect during August.

The RNC also has $70 million more cash on hand than the DNC. The Romney for Victory Fund has outraised the Obama for Victory Fund by over $40 million. Finally, more Super PAC’s are lining up behind Romney than being Obama, with the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money. Romney’s fundraising advantage may be able to overcome Obama’s advantage in ground game.

The Coming Weeks

With only a few weeks left before the election in November, both campaigns are going to drastically increase their ground games. They will be focusing more on getting voters to actually show up to the polls on Election Day.

Although the Obama campaign claims it holds a ground game advantage, Republicans have stepped up their efforts from 2008 under Romney. Furthermore, Romney has the fundraising advantage, giving him an opportunity to invest more money in voter activities in key states. In such a close election, the ground game in key states will ultimately decide the election.


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