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Democrats doubling down on swing states

$25m earmarked already for key Obama targets

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / May 6, 2012
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The presidential election is six months away but Democrats have already poured almost $25 million into key states where the get-out-the-vote ground game could tip the Electoral College in a potentially tight contest. Republicans say they will follow suit in the run-up to the election, but so far have sent just over $1 million to state parties.

The usual suspect states, with big numbers of electoral votes at stake, top the Democrats’ list - Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania - but the Democratic National Committee investments also reflect the changing demographic map, with North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado receiving special attention.

New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Iowa round out the top 10 targets for Democrats, based on national party contributions to their state subsidiaries in recent months. Minnesota, Michigan, and New Mexico are also receiving significant extra funding from the national party.

Restore Our Future, an independent super PAC supporting GOP candidate Mitt Romney, has reserved $4 million in television advertising time for an opening gambit in nine states - Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and New Hampshire.

With their early spending, both Republicans and Democrats have indicated where they believe the election will be decided in November, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“They’ve already ruled out about 40 states,’’ Sabato said. “This is the permanent campaign stretching over a few more months.’’

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission document the two parties’ investments so far. President Obama’s reelection committee has also made significant investments in swing-state party committees as part of a strategy that will put a premium on the fall get-out-the-vote ground game.

In the past four months, the DNC has sent nearly $1.5 million to the Democratic Party of Ohio, with its 18 electoral votes; more than $1.2 million to the Florida Democratic Party (29 electoral votes); and more than $1 million to the party apparatus in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes). Ohio’s electoral votes decided the 2004 election in favor of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat John F. Kerry, and Florida, based on a US Supreme Court ruling, tipped the electoral college to Bush over Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

The DNC shares money with all its state affiliates, recently at a rate of $10,000 a month plus a smaller stipend to update and maintain data bases of voter files. That means reliably Democratic or Republican states receive the minimum because they are unlikely to be a factor in November, including states like California and Massachusetts on the Democratic side of the ledger and Alabama and the Dakotas on the Republican side.

With a competitive race to nominate their presidential candidate, Republicans have been late to the game, but Sean Spicer, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the party is already building on sophisticated voter identification data compiled in the 2010 mid-term elections. The party is opening campaign offices in most of the swing states where the Obama campaign already has a significant presence, he said.

Spicer said the Democratic National Committee, which has spent more than $2.5 million on polling the past two months, is still trying to identify its supporters this year. The national GOP has not spent anything on polling in recent months.

In some respects, both parties are modeling this election on the 2004 campaign, which was distinguished by Republican incumbent George W. Bush’s state-of-the-art emphasis on turning out supporters who were identified by the campaign’s organization.

Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the national party money is being invested in field organization to bring out voters in the fall.

“We saw the difference the ground game made in 2008 where the Obama team put together an unprecedented effort,’’ said Buckley, referring to Obama’s 9 percentage-point win over John McCain in the Granite State in the presidential election.

New Hampshire, once a dependably Republican state, is a prime example of how the Electoral College map has changed in recent years. While most analyses of the 2000 election focus on Florida and the Supreme Court decision awarding the decisive electoral votes to Bush over Gore, Bush won the Granite State and its four electoral votes by 7,211 votes over Gore that year.

Had the Democrats been able to overcome that margin, Florida would not have mattered and Gore would have been elected president.

A Globe analysis of Democratic National Committee disbursements in recent months shows that the party is investing more money per electoral vote in New Hampshire than in any other state.

In terms of total expenditures, its $640,000 puts New Hampshire eighth behind more electorally important states, following the top three of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, $976,000; Virginia, $872,000; Nevada, $689,000; and Colorado, $666,000.

The Romney campaign is raising funds to be used in swing states by funneling still-modest contributions through party committees in Massachusetts, Utah, Idaho, and Vermont.

The Obama reelection committee and the national party have established a similar vehicle, the Swing State Victory Fund, which has distributed $500 grants to 11 state party committees and had a balance of about $2.8 million as of the end of March.

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at brian.mooney@globe.com.

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