“Tell your own personal story,” a paid staffer from New Jersey was urging them. “It comes across if you’re speaking from the heart.”
A handwritten sign taped to a wall described their goal: 1,200 doors this weekend.
Across the avenue, 10 volunteers for Mitt Romney — mostly young or retired men — went over door-to-door scripts inside a GOP “victory center” that opened in July.
“You’ll see you ask this first question, ‘Can we count on your support?’ ” explained a campaign staffer. “If they say ‘yes,’ then you go into the next question about absentee ballots.”
Their weekend motto was scrawled on a whiteboard: “38 days until election day!”
Glenn Heffner, a retiree and top Romney door knocker in Ohio, got into his battered Lexus. Within shouting distance across the road, Sue Stromberg, who wore out a pair of shoes for Obama in 2008, had already cranked up her Saturn sedan.
At this moment in the campaign, their objectives were similar: With early voting kicking off in Ohio on Tuesday, they were both trying to persuade voters leaning their way to start casting ballots.
By 10 a.m., they were heading out into the often-lonely suburban battlefield of craggy sidewalks, vinyl-sided split-levels and barking dogs.
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A day with Romney and Obama canvassers in this hotly contested area of northeastern Ohio provides a snapshot of what both campaigns cast as the most critical piece of their White House bids: the volunteer-driven, pavement-pounding grind known as the ground game.
With millions of dollars being poured into TV advertising, social media and other high-tech strategies, both campaigns say they are more convinced than ever that face-to-face conversations are by far the most effective form of contact with voters, and those efforts are robust than Ohio and the other swing states.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests the importance of all that attention. While the survey found the race to be close nationally — with 49 percent of likely voters siding with Obama and 47 percent with Romney — the disparity is much wider in swing states, with 52 percent siding with Obama and 41 percent with Romney.
Roughly a third of all voters in “tossup” states say they’ve heard from each side.
Not messing with success
In the case of the Obama campaign, officials say they are mostly dusting off the 2008 playbook, turning into standard practice tactics considered revolutionary four year ago. They are rebuilding networks of “neighborhood leaders” who organize their Zip codes, a system bolstered by vast voter databases.
“There’s really no need to mess with success,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.