Romney Had No Clue as to Obama Ground Game

If you’d like a break from holiday merriment for some stone-cold astonishment, by all means take a moment to read Michael Kranish’s postmortem on the Romney campaign from the Sunday Boston Globe.

Romney’s campaign, Kranish writes, “made a series of costly financial, strategic, and political mistakes, that, in retrospect, all but assured the candidate’s defeat, given the revolutionary turnout tactics and tactical smarts of President Obama’s operation.”

To wit: Team Romney was (as we all knew) far too timid in telling the candidate’s personal story—especially his faith and his service in his faith community. Team Obama had way better tech guys. Team Romney had a better debate. Team Obama had wiser financing strategies.

But here’s the stunner.

Apparently, Team Romney had no clue as to the extent of Obama’s ground game.

This, from Kranish:

Rich Beeson, the Romney political director… said that only after the election did he realize what Obama was doing with so much manpower on the ground. Obama had more than 3,000 paid workers nationwide, compared with 500 for Romney, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

“Now I know what they were doing with all the staffs and offices,” Beeson said. “They were literally creating a one-to-one contact with voters,” something that Romney did not have the staff to match. 

“Now I know”?

Yes, that’s the sound of me dropping my cup of egg nog.

Because Rich Beeson could have simply counted field offices to make the inference that something was going on—Obama had three to four times as many field offices as Romney in the swing states. Or could have simply counted the staff in the field offices. Or hung out for just a few minutes in one of them. Or sat on a street corner in Ohio. Anywhere in Ohio. And eavesdropped on an Obama canvasser.

I mean, I spent 45 minutes phone-banking the parking garage of a lowly San Diego field office with four children under nine years old hopped up on Doritos and doing laps around my folding chair, and even under those suboptimal circumstances I could tell right away that Obama’s data was even better than it was in 2008 and that there was hardcore focus on the 18- to 29-year-old set. And, mind you, I’m no professional.

Which is why I must take issue with Kranish’s unironic characterization of Romney as a “data-driven analyst.”

Unless by “data-driven analyst” he means is a guy who knows how to arrange numbers on a page to make a case just plausible enough secure buy-in from a cultivated crew of underwriters and investors who are already inclined to believe him.

Which, actually, just may be what “data-driven analyst” means these days.

I don’t believe that spreadsheets are a scale model of reality. 

I do believe that professional political directors should have a grip on reality.

And it turns out—even though I disagreed with Romney politically—I did want to believe that someone over there knew what the heck they were doing.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.