“The only metric anyone has seen is the number of offices and the number of staff on the ground,” Beeson said. “In Virginia, Obama has 80 offices, we have 26,” he said by way of example. “In Florida the Obama campaign has 100 offices; we have 41.”
As the old saying goes, generals and political operatives are always fighting the last war. Beeson said if the Romney team wanted more offices—or thought they would provide a measurable difference in the vote, they would have opened more offices.
Beeson is a seasoned political hand, having been the political director at the Republican National Committee, among other high-profile posts.
“This isn’t 2008 when we were restricted by funds,” he said. “We didn’t have the money four years ago, but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten how to organize and turn out our voters.”
Speaking from the Romney campaign offices in Boston, Beeson was asked about reports of large leads for Obama among early voters.
“We have a completely different strategy. They are voting their high-propensity voters first,” he said, adding that the Obama campaign want their base vote in the bank as soon as possible. “We know our high-propensity voters will vote; we’re focusing our early voting operation on the lower-propensity voters. We want them to get to the polls or to send in their absentee ballots before Election Day.”
He said he was confident about Election Day voters. “Our turnout will be far stronger.”
Beeson said that on the first day of early voting in Iowa, the Obama campaign “had a 29 percent partisan advantage. Now that’s down to 14 percent. We’ve cut it in half and our early-voting operation is functioning at full steam.”
He added that he is more than satisfied at the campaign’s canvassing operation: “We are at parity or ahead of the Obama campaign in every target state in the number of people contacted.”
The Washington Times recently reported that in Virginia the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign have “surpassed 4 million voter contacts, which includes seven times the number of phone calls and 11 times as many door knocks as at this point in 2008.”
Early voting began as a little-used tactic by states to drive up the number of people participating in the electoral process. In 2008, nearly a third of the ballots cast for president were early votes. In fact, two states—Washington and Oregon—don’t have any polling places. Citizens can only vote by mail.
Early voting changes the nature of the final push as we used to know it. A late attack ad is not as effective if large percentages of voters have already cast their ballots than it would be if everyone had to wait for Election Day.
Early-voting operations can have a significant impact on the outcome of an election. Add to that modern campaigns being largely carried out on Twitter and other social media, as well as in on-line political news sites that are updated constantly, and the effects of “bragging rights” to early-voting success can help turn perceived momentum into real votes as those low-propensity voters want to jump on a winner’s bandwagon.
In the end, though, the size of the field staff, the number of offices, and the number of early voters might be illusory. A ground game is important, just as good advertisements and a well-organized finance operation are important.
But none of these trumps a good candidate, a person who can make the case for why he or she should be the next president of the United States, or the next city council member from Ward 3.
The press has very few data points to point to: money, polling, and a quantifiable ground game. But in the end, it is the candidate who will, or won’t, close the sale.