Stevens, however, thought money for late advertising was important. “It was a hard decision,” Stevens said at a post-election seminar at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, “but we enjoyed spending that money in October.”
Like the Alamo
Tagg Romney could not figure it out. Why had Obama spent so heavily during the primaries when he had no primary opponent? Only later did Tagg realize this was a key to Obama’s victory.
“We were looking at all the money they were spending in the primary and we were thinking ‘what are they spending all their money on? They’re wasting a lot of money.’ They weren’t. They were paying staffers in Florida” and elsewhere.
If Romney’s Manhattan Project had been debate preparation, then Obama’s was the ground game.
Building on its 2008 field organization, Obama’s campaign had far more people on the ground, for longer periods, and backed by better data. In Florida, for example, the Romney campaign said it had fewer than 200 staff members on the ground, a huge commitment of its total of 500 nationwide. But the Obama campaign had 770 staff in Florida out of 3,000 or so nationwide.
“They had more staff in Florida than we had in the country, and for longer,” said Romney adviser Ron Kaufman.
Indeed, in swing state after swing state, the Obama field team was much bigger than the Romney troops. Obama had 123 offices in Ohio, compared with Romney’s 40. Obama had 59 offices in Colorado, compared with Romney’s 15, according to statistics compiled by the Obama campaign.
Stevens said he expressed alarm about the Democrat’s early advantage in money and staff. He said Obama’s decision to reject public financing for the fall campaign (a move Romney followed) worked to Obama’s advantage because Obama used primary funds to prepare for the general election, and it meant there was no ceiling on how much could be spent.
“It is like sitting in the Alamo,” Stevens said in the postelection interview, comparing the siege by Mexican troops in 1836 to competing against the superior forces of the Obama campaign. “Yes, it is alarming. There are a lot of Santa Anna’s soldiers out there.”
Romney’s confidence remained strong as Election Day approached. While public polls showed Obama in control, some of Romney’s internal polls showed him winning.
But Obama’s field organization was too strong. In Florida, 266,000 more Hispanics voted than four years earlier. “They altered the face of the election by driving up the Latino turnout,” Romney political director Rich Beeson said. “They told us they would do it. I didn’t think they would do it, and they did.”
Ohio was the greatest surprise of all. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse calculated that 209,000 more African-Americans voted this year than in 2008 in Ohio, while 329,000 fewer whites had voted.
“I don’t know how that’s possible,” Newhouse said. “If that is what the Obama campaign achieved, hats off to them.’’
A key difference was the depth of voter contact. Romney took comfort in polls that showed voters had been contacted equally by both campaigns. But the polls were misleading, perhaps equating a recorded robocall on the phone with a house call by a worker.
“It wasn’t well understood what they were doing,” Newhouse said. “We asked the question in polls, ‘Have you been contacted by campaigns?’ Our overall contact was pretty similar. But their in-person contact was beating us by 3 to 2.”
Kevin Madden, a longtime Romney confidant who served as a spokesman in the final months of the campaign, said that he regrets that the campaign did not adhere to what worked for Republicans in 2004, when George W. Bush won reelection with an innovative ground game.
“We were in position of arguing against something that I had seen proven correct in 2004,” Madden said. “We have to remember that the nature of campaigns has changed. We did it in right in 2004 and we have lost a step.”
As dawn broke on Election Day, 800 Romney volunteers filled the floor of TD Garden in Boston. This was the centerpiece of the campaign’s turnout operation, code named ORCA, that was supposed to swallow Obama’s Narwhal program. But the Romney team was so determined to keep ORCA secret that it had never run a test at TD Garden; it had only gone through some lesser runs in a different building.
The ORCA workers were supposed to be in contact with more than 30,000 volunteers stationed at polling places across the country. Those volunteers were told to bring a smartphone and go to a secure Web page on which they could report the names of everyone who voted. In this way, the Romney campaign could determine if supporters had failed to show up and urge them to vote.Continued...