Three Votes and a Cloud of Dust

If Mitt Romney and his supporters are building up a significant financial advantage for paid media in the stretch drive of the campaign, the Obama campaign is hoping to counter with heavy investments in turnout infrastructure. WaPo’s T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen try to quantify it, at least anecdotally:

When President Obama campaigned in Las Vegas on Wednesday, his aides had laid the groundwork by opening 18 field offices around the city. Mitt Romney’s state operation has opened three.

In the critical battleground state, the Nevada Democratic Party has been building staff for two years and now has nearly 200 people organizing volunteers, knocking on doors, registering voters and compiling lists of supporters. Romney’s Nevada campaign is backed up by about 40 workers.

In Ohio, another closely fought swing state, the Democratic state party employs nearly 300 people, more than the Republican National Committee in Washington, and almost four times as many as the Ohio GOP.

That gap in the candidates’ ground efforts is mirrored around the country as the presidential contest heads into its final weeks, with Democratic campaign workers outnumbering Republicans nearly three to one, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign spending reports.

There’s a lot more in the story about various cellphone apps useful in person-to-person contacts and plenty of taunts back and forth between the two campaigns, with Obama’s folk saying Romney’s are getting killed in the “ground game” while Romney’s folk say Obama’s folk are wasting money on payrolls for people who are just sitting around.

Out here in Central California, remote from any actual GOTV activity to speak of (except for some labor efforts to defeat the nasty and deceptive anti-union Proposition 32, the latest in an endless series of “paycheck protection” measures), it’s hard for me to judge who’s making the smartest investments. Certainly the GOTV-first philosophy of the Obama campaign makes sense in this particular cycle, with its exceptionally low percentage of undecided voters and the likelihood of an “enthusiasm drop-off” from 2008 among both younger and minority voters, even as the Republican “base” whips itself up into an unprecedented hate-frenzy. It’s also reasonably well-settled that there is a point of diminishing returns in the value of paid-media efforts in presidential elections–a point Team Mitt may be reaching or exceeding this year.

But as always, the competence with which the two campaigns carry out their strategies may matter more than their inherent wisdom. And while both operations have a reasonably good reputation for past performance (in particular, Romney’s willingness to authorize or countenance negative advertising of the most vicious and mendacious nature seems limitless), it is noteworthy that Team Red has had to spend a lot of time dealing with wounds self-inflicted by the candidates and other major GOP pols. That “X Factor” could ultimately make as much of a difference as the strategies deployed or the resources available to execute them.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.