In August I compared Barack Obama's field operations in several states to what John McCain's campaign was putting together and concluded that Obama's small-town outreach would crush McCain's.
Keeping Republican margins down in small towns and rural areas has the potential to put many more states in the blue column. This diary by ManfromMiddletown shows why with lots of maps.
I am happy to report that with less than a month to go, the Obama campaign is deploying its army of staff and volunteers to get out the vote in scores of cities and towns where the McCain campaign is nowhere to be seen except on television.
Iowa isn't much of a swing state, with five recent polls putting Obama over 50 percent and beating McCain by at least 10 points. Nevertheless, the Obama campaign is taking no chances here. They've got more than 40 field offices. They've been canvassing in dozens of communities, large and small, every weekend since July. During the week, surrogates for Obama are regularly holding "rural roundtables" and other campaign events.
It's easy for volunteers in larger communities to sign up to help in small towns. One of my friends showed me the Obama 08 application on his iPhone yesterday. Among other things, it shows you volunteer opportunities in your area. For instance, he saw that they need people to hand out Obama-Biden stickers in the Covered Bridges parade this weekend in Winterset (25 miles from his home in the Des Moines suburbs). Contact information for the relevant Obama office and field organizer was right there, along with a link he could click if he needed directions.
When early voting began in Iowa the last week of September, Obama's campaign organized 21 phone banks and 17 supporter gatherings around the state within a 24-hour period.
Today the Obama campaign in Iowa launched an early voting RV tour. Click the link for a list of stops this RV will make just in the first two days of the tour. There is a particular focus on small college campuses and high schools in small cities and towns.
This pattern is being repeated around the country. While McCain and the Republican National Committee are scrambling to move staff into states like Indiana and Virginia, Obama has had field offices up and running for months.
The level of activity in Obama offices is very high. To cite just one example, Obama has more than 40 field offices in Missouri. McCain has 15 Missouri offices, up from six in August. But as Sean Quinn noted in this post about his road trip to Missouri, hardly anything is happening in the typical McCain field office:
Let's be clear. We've observed no comparison between these ground campaigns. To begin with, there's a 4-1 ratio of offices in most states. We walk into McCain offices to find them closed, empty, one person, two people, sometimes three people making calls. Many times one person is calling while the other small clutch of volunteers are chatting amongst themselves. In one state, McCain's state field director sat in one of these offices and, sotto voce, complained to us that only one man was making calls while the others were talking to each other about how much they didn't like Obama, which was true. But the field director made no effort to change this. This was the state field director.
Only for the first time the other day did we see a McCain organizer make a single phone call. So we've now seen that once. The McCain organizers seem to operate as maître Ds. Let me escort you to your phone, sir. Pick any one of this sea of empty chairs. I'll be sitting over here if you need any assistance.[...]
You could take every McCain volunteer we've seen doing actual work in the entire trip, over six states, and it would add up to the same as Obama's single Thornton, CO office. Or his single Durango, CO office. These ground campaigns bear no relationship to each other.
A ground game can't win an election by itself, but it should help Obama squeeze many more votes out of a favorable political climate.
I was a precinct captain for John Kerry in 2004, and Obama's ground game is several orders of magnitude better. Kerry's GOTV mostly focused on cities and suburbs, and in particular on heavily Democratic precincts. In many cases, MoveOn or America Coming Together volunteers were duplicating our efforts by knocking on the same doors and calling the same people.
Obama is getting the vote out in cities and suburbs, but I suspect his investment in small towns will give him the decisive edge in enough red states to put him over 270 electoral votes. It's been a while since Republican presidential candidates had to work hard for votes in those areas, and McCain's campaign doesn't seem up to the task.