Obama said all along that he would defeat Mitt Romney in part because of a second-to-none field organization. Nothing proved his point more aptly than how that organization performed Election Day.
After years amassing unsurpassed data about potential Obama voters, building armies of volunteers who connected repeatedly with those voters and assembling teams of analysts, lawyers and other decision-makers who studied the projections, the laws and the electorates in each battleground, they prepared for every contingency they could think of that might come their way Election Day.
It was “the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics,” Obama proclaimed in his victory speech in Chicago early Wednesday, an observation that prompted grudging acquiescence from some Republicans.
His historic candidacy in 2008 produced a field organization and volunteer army that was, on Tuesday, five years in the making. The generals of that army argue that the president’s win this time, although narrower, proves that their methods are crucial for any campaign.
“People could have said it was the ‘Obama magic’ in 2008, but I don’t think you can say that about 2012,” said Jeremy Bird, Obama’s field director. “He was entering a really tough race. Most people in the media a year ago were saying this was going to be a really tough race for him.”
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer acknowledged that the Democratic ground operation outpaced the Republican side. But the Republican field organization was strong, he said, meaning there was more to Obama’s victory, including better assumptions and data about enthusiasm and who would vote.
“They won. We’re going to do a lot of analysis, but our ground game was better than it’s ever been before,” Spicer said. “We took our ground game to a new level; we just came up short. So it’s like any other team. You can play better than you’ve ever played before, but if the other team outdoes you, they’ll win the game.”
Obama, a former community organizer, decided early on that he would build on the field organization of four years ago — and do it in nine crucial battlegrounds that he won in 2008. Virginia is a case in point: a state he won easily four years ago but that his advisers knew would be harder this time around.
In a state known for its rural conservatism and independent-minded suburbs, the president’s supporters would need to find every person open to voting for him, make sure they were registered, persuade them to choose him, and, finally, turn them out to vote.