Editor's Note: Mr. David Brown headed up the Kerry effort in Medina County in 2004 and also the Brown/Strickland effort in 2006. He sent this letter to Nate Silver of www.fivethirtyeight.com. Nate was in Ohio recently reporting on what is going on in our state.
October 13, 2008
Because you are writing from Ohio now, I thought I would give you one Ohioan's response to Michael Barone's suggestion that Barack Obama's ground operation does not involve peer-to-peer contact.
I am 64 years old and have worked on Ohio political campaigns since 1972. I live in an exurban county just southwest of Cleveland. I was the county coordinator for John Kerry in 2004 and for Sherrod Brown in 2006. Our county is a swing county. Kerry lost it to Bush by a 57-43 margin, with a total of 84,000 votes having been cast. Brown won it by a 55-45 margin, with 65,500 votes having been cast.
Our loss in 2004 was not for lack of effort. In fact, we ran such an intense campaign that Kerry's brother Cameron came to our headquarters to thank us personally the day before the election. Our campaign involved the staples of campaigning: voter registration, a yard sign campaign, phone banking, canvassing, and GOTV. Obviously, it was not enough.
I can assure you that the Barack Obama campaign in this county is vastly superior to the campaign we ran for John Kerry. To begin with, even though Kerry declared Ohio to be “ground zero” in his campaign and even though he invested huge resources in this state, our county had only one paid field organizer, and we had to share this organizer with a neighboring county. By way of contrast, Obama has three full-time paid field organizers in this county alone. They have been here since mid-August.
These field organizers are both well trained and effective. Instead of trying to do canvassing themselves, they have developed neighborhood teams in the three principal cities in the county (we had nothing like this in 2004), and the neighborhood teams are made up of local people who are canvassing in their own communities.
For example, my daughter is the neighborhood team leader in our community, and she has organized and worked with the canvass teams who have been going door-to-door here for the past month and a half. The past two weekends the canvass team has consisted of seven people, including my daughter and me. Every member of the canvass team other than my daughter was over 60 years old and has lived in the community for at least 30 years. We contacted people who the campaign had identified as persuadable voters. Each person we contacted lived within a half mile of my home, which served as the headquarters for the day's canvass. Because of our familiarity with this community, many of the people we contacted were quite receptive to our campaign effort. On several occasions this past Saturday, I spent at least 15 minutes at an individual doorstep talking to the voter or voters who lived at that address. In spending time with them, I was able to persuade a number of people to vote for Obama after they had first declared themselves to be undecided. Other canvassers reported the same experience.
If my personal experience this past Saturday morning is any indicator, Obama is in good shape in this city. Each of the persons to whom I was directed to by the walking list was classified as an independent by the list, and in fact many of these people identified themselves as such. Nevertheless, by the end of the morning I had talked to 15 strong Obama supporters (three of whom had already voted for him), one person who was leaning to Obama, three voters who continued to be undecided, no voters leaning to McCain, and five strong McCain supporters. (A number of other households had no one home.) This was in a precinct which normally votes Republican by a 60-40 margin.
What is also different this time is the good use to which the data entered on the walking list during the canvass is put. It is entered into the database immediately, so there can be follow-up with voters who have concerns about a particular issue or who remain undecided after the initial contact. The field organizers tell me that we have sufficient resources, particularly including volunteers, to reach each persuadable voter three separate times. By way of contrast, during the Kerry campaign we were only able to attempt one contact with each such voter.
In addition to the campaign effort I just described, the campaign has a volunteer-staffed phone bank running seven days a week—part of it running from headquarters and part from volunteers’ homes. The campaign also registered voters and will do a precise GOTV effort which will be based on the constantly-updated voter information in the database.
On a related note, a local paper reported that as of the 10th of October 9,000 people in the county had already voted—either by mail or in person, which means that more than 10% of the ultimate vote has already been cast, and this at a time when Obama is leading in most Ohio polls.
In sum, if Mr. Barone is pinning his hopes for a McCain victory on the failure of the Obama campaign to run a strong field operation centered on a great deal of peer-to-peer contact, he is in for a disappointment if the Obama campaign elsewhere if anything like the campaign here.