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The Obama, Romney ground game: Sporadic voter is the prize

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Phone bankers in Romney Ohio headquarters, Columbus.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

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Obama canvassers getting briefed at field office near Ohio State University.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

COLUMBUS, Ohio --Though on opposite sides, Sydney Schmitt, 22, an Ohio State University senior, and Jeff Johnson, 65, a retired Army officer, are doing the same volunteer job: knocking on doors in this battleground state to squeeze out votes for President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

With the candidates and top surrogates swooping in and out of Ohio before Tuesday's election, it's all part of the ''ground game' with canvassers like Schmitt and Johnson playing crucial roles in bolstering turnout.

The stakes for Ohio's 18 electoral votes are enormous; without them, Romney faces an almost impossible task of earning the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Hunt for stragglers

The campaigns, through their ground games, are hunting for their stragglers, mounting massive drives to get their backers to vote.

"The low-hanging fruit is all gone," said Johnson, who has been a part of several GOP campaigns -- John McCain's White House bid and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's statewide contest.

As Johnson strolled through Upper Arlington, an upscale suburb and Romney turf, he was carrying his "walk sheet," with names of likely Romney voters, who, despite some prodding, have not yet cast an early or absentee ballot.

Behind Johnson's old-fashioned shoe leather campaigning is a lot of high-tech input. His walk sheet was organized to efficiently map out his route, to maximize his time in the field.

Schmitt, with her "walk sheet" on a clipboard, was drumming up votes on blocks near the OSU campus filled with scruffy student apartments -- fertile Obama territory. She volunteered for Obama's 2008 campaign while a high school senior because it "felt like a social movement" and it seemed a "disservice at that time in history not to be involved," she said.

Analyzing voting history

She was armed with information about how students without cars could get to early voting locations -- with the campaign staging buses near the Student Union.

The campaigns have spent months identifying their supporters or likely backers by knocking on doors, making calls and analyzing voting histories. Marketing and demographic information are also used to to identify potential voters.

Four years ago, Obama beat Sen. John McCain in Ohio 51.5 percent to 46.6 percent in part because his ground operation locked in early votes. Romney forces are not making that same mistake.

"This ground game here has just dwarfed anything done in '08 and '04," Scott Jennings, Romney's Ohio campaign chief, told me.

The campaigns have already identified their most reliable voters, but with the race so close, the goal is to get occasional voters to the polls.

"One thing we are heavily focused on is the low-to-mid propensity voter," said Jennings. "We spent a heck of a lot of time this year knocking on doors and making calls to people who don't appear to be partisan on the voter files, trying to figure out, 'Where are you on this thing?' "

'Personal interaction'

The "low-pros" have been wooed with invitations to tele-town halls and rallies with Romney or a surrogate. "They are going to get a high level of personal interaction with the campaign," Jennings said.

The Obama team has a similar approach.

Campaign manager Jim Messina said, "Early vote helps us mobilize and turn out those who are least -- who are less likely to vote by giving them more time and ways to do that. . . . We're up by double digits among sporadic voters, and among all voters who have early-voted. And that is a big piece."

An Associated Press survey of early ballots cast in six battleground states -- where voters can be traced based on party affiliation -- shows that more Democratic ballots have been cast in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. Colorado was the only state with more GOP early ballots.

Johnson knocked on the door of Stephanie Thornton, a homemaker and Romney backer who told Johnson she prefers to go to the polls on election day. "I will definitely be there Tuesday,'" she said. But that's not good enough to get her off a walk list. She will likely be getting, said Johnson, more reminders until her vote is actually cast.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 3, 2012 9:49 PM.

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