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Romney's Ohio disaster forces GOP rethink

WND senior staff reporter Jerome Corsi was on Romney’s airplane as traveling press in the final three weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign, from the second presidential debate held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 16 through Election Day.

The Romney campaign’s failure to win Ohio is a major reason Republicans are contemplating investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop an electronic “voter intelligence” ground game for the future.

On Election Day, during the last flight of the Romney campaign from Pittsburgh to Boston, Stuart Stevens, a top campaign strategist and speechwriter, told WND he was confident Romney would win Ohio because “a positive campaign message trumps the ground game every time.”

In retrospect, Stevens and the Romney brain trust had miscalculated, devoting resources to old methodologies amounting to nothing more than door knocks and phone banks, while Democrats relied on a sophisticated social science analysis that drove the massive, computer-database, ground-game marketing effort launched by Obama strategists Jim Messina and David Plouffe.

Time magazine reported the Obama team had polling data on 39,000 people in Ohio alone, a huge sample of approximately 1 percent of all Ohio voters, allowing deep understanding of where demographic and regional groups were trending at any moment, and had been running daily some 66,000 computer simulations of the election, calculating Obama’s chances of winning under every imaginable scenario of voter turnout.

The Romney/Ryan presidential campaign may be the last time the Republican Party relies on traditional, seat-of-the-pants estimates common to campaign professionals before the social networking phenomenon, which today is being driven by rapidly developing mobile technology.

The backbone of the Romney campaign’s ground game was supposed to be their much-touted ORCA computer program, which was supposed to connect 800 people in Romney’s Boston headquarters with 34,000 volunteers around the nation.

But like a beached whale, ORCA failed on Election Day.

John Ekdahl, writing on the Ace of Spades HQ blog, provided a scathing postmortem evaluation of ORCA, indicating the computer system that had never been stress-tested prior to the election crashed on Election Day.

As a result, volunteers were left confused and demoralized, without the certificates they needed to act as poll watchers or the mundane names and address information they needed to get to the polls Romney voters who had yet not yet voted.

The contrast between the ground games of the two campaigns was decisive:

A disaster waiting to happen

In the three weeks prior to Election Day, during which WND followed the Romney campaign as traveling press, discussions with Republican Party state chairmen in the all-important swing states made clear the Romney campaign was relying on traditional methodologies developed prior to the computer era to get out the vote.

On Oct. 25 at a Romney rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, state campaign chairman Scott Jennings told WND he was confident Romney would win Ohio because internal polls confirmed independent polls in showing Romney had a substantial lead among independent voters.

“We are not going to win independent voters by more than 10 points in this state and lose Ohio,” Jennings bragged. “Independents are flowing our way.”

Jennings claimed the ground game organized for Romney is better than the Republicans had organized in Ohio for any recent presidential campaign.

“We’ve knocked on 1.8 million doors, and we’ve made over 4 million phone calls,” he claimed. “Sometime this week we’re going to knock on the 2 millionth voter door and we will make the six millionth voter contact. Since early voting started we’ve made nearly 3.8 million voter contact attempts. We are knocking on doors in every county in Ohio.”

Jennings is an experienced Republican political field operative. In 2000, he managed George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in Kentucky, and, in 2004, he managed Bush’s presidential campaign in New Mexico. In 2008, he was a senior political aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and he also ran a successful re-election campaign for Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky’s 2nd District.

Asked what the difference was between the Romney campaign in 2012 and other campaigns he had run, Jennings cited the door-knocking effort.

“In 2000 an 2004, we put a lot of effort on phone banking, but this year we are emphasizing door-knocking,” he said. “People will always answer their doors. This is the best interaction you can have in American politics. This is why we are knocking on doors, because I think the personal neighbor-to-neighbor interaction helps turn folks out.”

Jennings claimed the Romney campaign was making inroads on early voting in Ohio.

“Obama won early voting in 2008 by 20 points, but with the Democrats’ erosion of early voting and a Republican surge, in which more absentee ballots being returned by registered Republicans were beginning to outnumber absentee ballots being returned by registered Democrats, we are narrowing Obama’s margin to a 6-point advantage for the Democrats,” Jennings boasted.

Jennings acknowledged that in the final weeks of the campaign, Ohio remained a neck-to-neck race, with Romney closing in on a 5- to 6-point advantage Obama had held in the state until October.

“I’m not going to tell you we’re going to win early voting, but I’m saying we’re going to keep it close,” he said, “and we’re going to blow it out on Election Day and that’s how we are going to win the race.”

Jennings sounded confident about the ground game he had organized in Ohio.

“They have collected a lot of leases and a lot of rent payments,” he suggested, “and they have sent out a lot of press releases on their leases, but with thousands of volunteers in this state, we enjoy an enthusiasm gap.”

WND research determined that many of the “door knocks” did not amount to in-person visits, but may simply have involved leaving campaign literature when no one was home.

Jennings argued his goal was to better the 2008 McCain campaign in voter margins, returning to the margins George W. Bush won in beating John Kerry in Ohio in 2004.

“All over the state of Ohio, I think you will see the Romney team return to the margins Bush enjoyed in this state in 2004,” he said. “Everybody senses we are on a track to win this state this year. We are not going to win Cuyahoga County, but we will get our votes out of the Cleveland area. We are going to reclaim Hamilton County, a battleground county in the southwest of the state where we are today. The counties around Cincinnati are red counties, and there is renewed enthusiasm in the western corridor of the state between Toledo and Cincinnati. In southeast Ohio, there is a lot of concern about the Obama administration shutting down coal production.”

When the votes were counted, Romney bettered McCain’s 2008 vote differential against Obama in Ohio, but not enough to win the state.

In 2004, George W. Bush won Ohio by slightly more than 100,00 votes out of 5.5 million cast; in 2008, John McCain lost Ohio by approximately 200,000 votes out of 5.2 million votes cast.

This year, Obama won Ohio by approximately 100,000 votes out of 5.1 million votes cast.