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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Republican Committee Seeks to Match Obama Ground Game


Every night, state-based field operatives hired by the Republican National Committee are collecting daily absentee ballot reports from elections officials in Colorado, Florida and North Carolina.

The reports provide the names and party identification for everyone who has requested an absentee ballot that day in those four states, which are among those that have most aggressively embraced early voting. The committee staff combs through the nightly reports in an effort to better target voters with turn-out-the-vote literature that is already being mailed out.

It is one tiny example of the committee's ground game on behalf of Mitt Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan - a multimillion dollar effo rt that is largely being financed and coordinated out of the party's national headquarters in Washington D.C., not the campaign's Boston-based operation.

Top Republican officials on Tuesday described those efforts in some detail to The New York Times, asserting that President Obama's organizational advantage in 2008 will not be replicated this year because of the concerted efforts of a reconstituted Republican National Committee.

“We will pass our 30 millionth voter contact some time early this week,” Rick Wiley, the political director for the committee, said in an interview. “That's more than the entire cycle in 2004 or 2008. You are seeing these huge numbers being posted by these volunteers out there.”

Mr. Romney will need all the help he can get.

Polls in critical battleground states continued to trend against Mr. Romney this week. A Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS News survey out Wednesday and a separate poll b y The Washington Post and ABC News each showed Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney in Florida and Ohio.

That is putting increasing pressure on committee efforts to identify and turn out Mr. Romney's voters even as early balloting begins in several states six weeks before Election Day.

Officials at the Democratic National Committee declined to comment about the on-the-ground competition between the two parties. Comparisons are difficult - while the committee is financing nearly all of Mr. Romney's ground game, the Democratic effort is more of a shared responsibility between Mr. Obama's campaign and the Democratic committee, with Mr. Obama's campaign playing a much bigger role than Mr. Romney's.

Mr. Obama's campaign said that it had made 43 million calls to voters but would not provide numbers of on-the-ground staff for comparison purposes. The campaign said its effort will be even bigger than the one Mr. Obama fielded four years ago.

Democrats also got a much earlier start than Mr. Romney. Many of the president's 2008 campaign staff members stayed in battleground states during the past four years, paid by the Democratic committee to maintain offices and equipment and field staff. Those offices are now run under the auspices of Mr. Obama's 2012 campaign.

“We've made early investments in battleground states to grow strong roots in neighborhoods across the country and keep an open conversation going with undecided voters for months,” said Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for Mr. Obama's campaign. “That takes time, and it will make the difference on Nov. 6.”

But Republican officials say the Republican committee began setting up its operations in critical states even before Mr. Romney clinched the nomination in May. Conversations about the Republican committee's plans were had with Mr. Romney and all of his rivals during the primaries, they said.

The question will be whether the Republican committee's effort can he lp Mr. Romney overcome a surging incumbent president in some key states and a Democratic campaign that has spent four years building up its own infrastructure.

Republican officials cite a series of statistics to suggest that it will. Among them:

- The Republican committee effort is making contact with three million voters each week in the battleground states, a number they say will grow “dramatically” during the last six weeks of the campaign.

- The party has hired 600 paid field staff members, mostly in the battleground states. Those numbers do not count the members of the state Republican parties that are already in place.

- Republicans have opened 300 offices that serve as the backbone of Mr. Romney's presidential campaign in the states. (Mr. Obama's campaign has publicly said, by contrast, that it has opened 208 offices in Colorado, Nevada and Ohio alone.)

- The Republican committee paid out $22 million in September alone to pay for grou nd-game activities in battleground states, including staffing, phone calls, polling, targeting, voter registration efforts, and other data efforts.

“From running a top-notch ground game to supplementing the Romney campaign's message on the air, the R.N.C. is doing everything we can under the law to elect Mitt Romney to the White House,” Reince Priebus, the Republican committee chairman, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama has had success with small-dollar donors, who have fueled contributions directly to his presidential campaign. The president is on track to raise as much as - or even more than - the $750 million he raised in his presidential campaign four years ago.

For Mr. Romney, whose campaign has raised money at a feverish pace to be able to match Mr. Obama's advertising budget, the Republican committee's efforts are a necessity. Without the committee's infrastructure spending, Mr. Romney's campaign would have been forced to divert precious advertising money to his ground game.

One advantage for Mr. Romney is his success with very wealthy donors who can afford to contribute the maximum contribution of $78,800. Of that, only $5,000 goes to Mr. Romney's campaign. The other $73,800 goes to funds that the committee controls, in part to pay for the field staff and infrastructure.

Republican officials said that much of that money is being held by four Republican state parties deemed especially friendly to the national committee: Idaho, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Vermont. Those states, called “bank states” by the committee, serve as temporary way stations for the cash until the battleground states need it.

“We don't transfer money into the battleground states until it's time to spend it,” said Jeff Larson, the chief of staff at the Republican committee. “We can hold the money and parse it out as its needed.”

The Republican committee is also using every opportunity to help defray costs that wo uld otherwise have to be paid by Mr. Romney's campaign. A campaign event that includes state and local Republican candidates can be classified as a “victory event,” with the costs divided between Mr. Romney's campaign and the national committee, Mr. Larson said.

Four years ago, advisers to Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, famously clashed with committee officials. The Republican voter turnout effort was easily trounced by Mr. Obama's efficient and well-financed organization.

This time, the Romney campaign is filled with ex-committee officials and the committee has senior staff members who are close to top Romney aides. Mr. Romney may still lose the election, but committee officials said Tuesday that it will not be because of a lack of a concerted, well-organized effort on the ground.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.