The Ground Game Battle: Volunteer Grassroots Activists Vs. Paid Union Workers

The Ground Game Battle: Volunteer Grassroots Activists Vs. Paid Union Workers

In key swing states, the vaunted Obama ground game is being out-worked and out-organized by a loosely knit coalition of volunteer grassroots activists (both local and out-of-state), traditional conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, and the local and national Republican establishment.

Obama’s ground game is top down, run by DNC and union officials. It’s implemented door-to-door by union workers, college students, and college-age young adults, almost all of whom are paid. Obama has very few unpaid volunteers on the ground.

Romney’s ground game, in contrast, is not exclusively Romney’s. It’s bottom-up, organic, and in many instances independently organized by small groups connected by a commitment to the common idea that the only way to save the country is to defeat Barack Obama and replace him with Mitt Romney.

Few of those knocking on doors for Romney are paid. Most are volunteers. Many are experienced in church mission trips or church-based door-to-door efforts. For them, the zeal of Christian evangelism turns easily into the zeal of civic evangelism.

You can’t buy this level of intensity.

More importantly, the heavy reliance by the Obama campaign for its door-to-door efforts on paid workers has created an uninspired crew best able to drop campaign literature but lacking the passion and capability to engage and persuade undecided voters.

In contrast, grassroots activists going door-to-door for Romney are passionate and eager to share the reasons why every undecided person they meet should vote for the Republican challenger. For them, it’s not just another election. It’s a last-ditch effort to save America, and they’ll make extraordinary personal sacrifices to communicate that message to anyone willing to listen.

At a time when most swing state voters have come to despise the barrage of negative television advertisements run by both campaigns, those messages are increasingly “tuned out.” Even traditional phone calls are irritating swing state voters.

On the other hand, messages delivered face-to-face on the front door step are generating a high return on the small financial investment made to get unpaid volunteers to the door.

While operatives of both established political parties–Democrat and Republican alike–have insisted on fighting the current political war with the weapons of earlier wars (massive television advertising and phone calls), conservative grassroots activists have introduced a new tool that has become wildly popular and spread like wildfire–the personalized postcard.

Lorie Medina, the-Texas based grassroots activist and author of Community Organizing for Conservativesfirst tried out the idea of engaging red state activists who wanted to influence swing state voters but couldn’t travel to those states by giving them names and addresses of undecided swing state voters. The activists purchased postcards with their own money, addressed them to the undecided swing state voters, wrote a personal note encouraging a Romney vote, and mailed them with their own stamps.

Soon, tea parties around the country, including the Nashville Tea Party, and the Rainy Day Patriots of Birmingham, Alabama were sending personalized postcards to undecided voters in Virginia, Florida, and Ohio. More than 100,000 of these personalized postcards have been sent out so far, and the number continues to increase.

On Sunday, Jonathan Tobin took on the myth of Obama’s ground game superiority in an article at Commentary:

The problem with this simplistic argument is easily illustrated. There are far fewer GOP field offices, but that’s because as even Kevin Drum, a writer for the left-wing Mother Jones, wrote on Friday, Republicans are operating on a different paradigm:

There’s been a disconnect in the ground games of the major parties for some time. Democrats tend to rely on paid, professional operations, while Republicans rely more on volunteer efforts, largely from evangelical churches. This is something that actually works in the Republicans’ favor, since volunteer efforts from friends and neighbors tend to be more effective at switching votes than professional phone banks. (Also cheaper.)

The other reason why Republicans are not as obsessed with turnout is that their base tends to be more highly motivated and, as a rule, are already registered rather than having to be schlepped out to the polls with great difficulty. They are instead working on convincing independents to give Romney a second look, an effort that has borne fruits as polls show their candidate gaining ground among centrists. 

On the Romney side, each swing state has a different coalition of Republican Party, local grassroots, traveling grassroots, and conservative organizations working collaboratively to win.

In Virginia, for instance, where President Obama beat John McCain by 234,000 votes in 2008, local Republican Party activities are strong in Northern Virginia and are supported by the independent Volunteers for Virginia project, which places volunteers from Texas and Tennessee in door to door efforts in Richmond, Tidewater, and Roanoke in addition to Northern Virginia. Traditional conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, American Majority Action, Faith and Freedom Coalition, and the Family Foundation are also active in Virginia.

The battle between volunteer grassroots activists and paid workers on the ground is especially heated in Northern Virginia:

Our Tea Party friends report that the Obama ground game has come face-to-face with the Tea Party ground game in Northern Virginia and that the precincts of Sterling, Virginia are ground zero in the critical Tea Party campaign to wrest Virginia from the Obama column.

To counter the union effort, Tea Party organizers are calling for all hands on deck to help with voter ID door knocking and other grassroots efforts on behalf of the Romney campaign, to counter the union effort.

Tea Party leaders say getting every undecided voter contacted and every Romney voter to vote in suburban Loudoun County — especially in the far eastern reaches of Loudoun County — is a key to offsetting Obama’s vote in the close DC suburbs (such as Arlington) and winning Virginia for Governor Romney.

Volunteers for Virginia and a Virginia-based grassroots group, WeRVirginia, have targeted about twenty key localities where the 234,000 margin enjoyed by Obama can be whittled away by converting disappointed Obama voters to Romney. Their goal in the city of Roanoke, for instance, is to turn Obama’s 7,000 vote margin over McCain in 2008 (24,000 to 17,000) into a 1 vote margin for Romney in 2012. So far, they’ve knocked on the doors of 10,000 undecided voters over a six-week period.

In Ohio, local tea party groups are hosting tea partiers from around the country, where their door-to-door efforts complement an already strong local GOP organization.

In Florida, Americans for Prosperity, the tea party group Paint Florida Red, and the local Republican establishment are engaged in door-to-door efforts.

In Pennsylvania, tea party and grassroots groups like the Independence Hall Tea Party and the Pittsburgh Tea Party are sending all their volunteers to Republican organized “Victory Centers.”

In Nevada, it’s NobamaNevada, a group of California tea party and grassroots activists, that is providing the energy and manpower to go door-to-door with local activists in precincts throughout the Silver State.

With so many grassroots activists going door-to-door in swing states around the country, it’s not surprising that optimism among conservatives for a Romney victory on November 6 are high. While most polls show Romney with a slight lead and momentum on his side, most activists believe that the polls underestimate the margin of the coming Romney victory because they miss the high levels of intensity felt among Romney voters.

But grassroots activists are taking the often used admonition of Glenn Reynolds, the well known blogger at Instapundit, to heart. 

“Don’t get cocky, kid,” Reynolds warns.

All across the country, grassroots activists are heeding Reynolds’s warning. They intend to run through the tape until the polls close on Tuesday.

Michael Patrick Leahy is a Breitbart News contributor, Editor of Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, author of  Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, and co-organizer of Volunteers for Virginia.