In 2008, Obama’s victory was all but assured by what was widely acknowledged to be his superior ground game, in which many new voters, particularly younger ones, padded his lead. Republicans said they have learned their lesson and have spent much of the last year trying to build the infrastructure for a record turnout. Democrats said they have redoubled their efforts.
And so, in the leafy neighborhoods and cities in New Hampshire and Ohio, the race is on to ferret out not just undecided or wavering voters, but those who might not follow through on their preferences and cast a ballot.
Focus on crucial counties
Of all the once-Republican counties that swung to support President Obama in 2008, perhaps none was more symbolic of the sweep of his victory than Ohio’s Hamilton County, long a fabled GOP stronghold.
“I was shellshocked’’ in 2008, said Deb Voss, 54, a homemaker who also runs a home decor business. She was knocking on doors in Madeira, a suburb of Cincinnati, last Wednesday, part of the GOP’s extensive get-out-the-vote effort to reclaim the county. Voss said she had never been involved with politics — until now.
The work is laborious. In two hours, Voss and Karen Schreckenhofer, 46, a homemaker who volunteers for the GOP four days a week, reached households with a total of only 17 voters. But the GOP says that as fewer people answer their phones, staffers have reemphasized face-to-face contact to reach voters.
The next day, a starkly different side of Hamilton County emerges, one that underscores Romney’s challenges. On an unseasonably hot afternoon downtown, voters fanned themselves with campaign fliers as they waited in lines for 45 minutes to an hour to cast ballots. Almost all were from Cincinnati rather than the GOP-leaning suburbs. Many of them were African-American. Virtually all of them were Obama supporters.
The Obama campaign has pushed voters to take advantage of in-person early voting, an option added after the state’s disastrous election in 2004, when hours-long lines at many precincts proved a national embarrassment. Yet for all the campaign’s efforts, many voters Thursday said they had come on their own.
“I heard about it at the bus stop, people were talking about it,” said Carsteige Ranford, 28, of Cincinnati, an Obama voter. “I figured if I waited until the election I might not have the chance,” he said.
A similar scene played out in Dayton, where a stream of early voters, about two-thirds of them African-American, flowed into the Montgomery County Administration Building from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, peaking at 350 an hour in late afternoon. They came with canes, with spouses, and with children.
The Obama campaign’s emphasis on early voting played a major role in its 2008 victory. Since Oct. 2, more than 812,000 residents have voted in Ohio, or about 14 percent of the 5.8 million votes recorded in 2008. A Time magazine poll released Wednesday showed Obama leading 60 percent to 30 percent among Ohio voters who already had cast ballots. However, the president and Romney were tied at 45 percent among people who said they intend to vote but had not yet done so.
Both campaigns are relying on surrogates in Ohio to deliver their message among union members and evangelical voters.
In 2008, 58 percent of union voters in Ohio voted for Obama, according to exit polls. But this year, the Obama campaign is hoping that the auto industry bailout, which benefited union members in Ohio, will lead to greater support.
Unions are being aided in canvassing by Working America, a national group with 3 million members, including 1 million in Ohio, who do not belong to organized labor but would like its benefits.
White evangelicals also have the potential to play a key role for Romney in Ohio, where they made up about 30 percent of the electorate in 2008 and broke 72 percent to 28 percent for John McCain. Throughout the state, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition is contacting Christian conservatives.
In New Hampshire, meanwhile, so much rides on turnout that the two campaigns are relying heavily on their computer databases to identify every potential vote.
The databases are part of what is known as “microtargeting,” a collection of information from public records and consumer lists that is entered into spreadsheets.
The information is cross-tabulated with voter registration records to try to determine who is likely to vote, and whom they are likely to support.
Betty HoSang, who canvassed for Obama in Bedford, is deeply committed to her candidate, an intensity reinforced when Romney’s secretly recorded comment that 47 percent of Americans view themselves as “victims” was released. HoSang and her colleague, Dianne Bzik, approach voters as Bedford neighbors, and they often know the homeowner or have children who go to the same school.Continued...