Since there is no money in being right about the election, pardon me while I strut for just a few hours, having nailed on the nose the Electoral College vote weeks before (Florida is going to end up in Obama’s column—the remaining votes are from heavily Democratic areas). But, moving quickly on to an important lesson, because bragging only carries you as far as the first yawn from a friend, there is a lesson to consider.
There were a whole raft of reasons for Obama’s victory, which I wrote about over the course of the election: Romney was a mediocre candidate; the Latino vote (a long-term problem for the white Republican Party) mattered; and, yes, I’d give a bit to Hurricane Sandy largely because it reminded people why government is a good thing.
But the bottom line—the difference in all the states but especially Ohio, Florida and Virgina—was the field operation. While Romney was fighting to fend off the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Obama’s folks were winning the campaign.
I can’t tell if it was stupidity or envy that drove Republicans to publicly dismiss the huge disparity between the respective campaigns’ on-the-ground presence. Transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) never understood the critical importance of field offices because most of them have never worked in a campaign and they’d rather be led around by the nose by the campaign to staged events, or read easily packaged information.
But, look at this list of field offices by state, which I posted two weeks ago:
Ohio – Obama 137, Romney 39
Nevada – Obama 27, Romney 12
Iowa – Obama 68, Romney 14
Florida – Obama 106, Romney 52
Virginia – Obama 63, Romney 32
Colorado – Obama 65, Romney 14
Wisconsin – Obama 39, Romney 24
North Carolina – Obama 55, Romney 24
New Hampshire: Obama 24, Romney 9
These are offices that send out volunteers and staff to knock on doors, walk the streets and make calls to voters. They did that over many months. In Ohio, the edge was more than 3-1; in Florida 2-1. When I looked at those numbers, it persuaded me, along with other data (certainly, a tip of the hat to Nate Silver) that Obama was going to win almost every one (North Carolina still seemed to be to be too Republican and, in 2008, Obama barely won the state). A tip of the hat to my New York union friend Patrick Gaspard, who, as executive director of the Democratic National Committee, was at the center of making this ground game happen. Though it won’t be in his nature, he’s the one who gets bragging rights.
At the end of the day, after all the advertising noise and other optics, someone is more likely to vote, and vote for your candidate, if you shook their hand or spoke to the person on the phone. People do thirst for personal contact, to feel there is some humanity behind the billion-dollar election machine, most of which they experience on television. As a one-time candidate, I can’t tell you how many times you will hear, “well, you took the time so you’ve got my vote”.
That’s the best lesson from Election Day 2012.