The media is focused on the horse race. Who is up in polls, who is down in spending, which candidate made a gaffe this week. It kind of, sort of, tells a pretty good story. It misses a lot of things too.
In the 2008 primaries Barack Obama had an amazing ground operation. He took Iowa in what was a shocker for much of the media. They were pushing Hillary and Edwards as the likely victor for there for well over a year before both went down in defeat. They didn’t understand his ground game there. I don’t think they have figured it out since.
Then came New Hampshire where after that Iowa win Hillary Clinton was declared defeated. She won. Once again, the media was paying attention to snap polls and the perceptions of producers around their newsrooms and not the organization helping to drive people to the polls. They were wrong. Then it happened again to Obama, who took Nevada which many saw as Hillary headquarters. This pattern occurred throughout the primaries.
In 2012 there has still been little accounting for how Mitt Romney, the moderate from a blue state, took over the nomination fight from start to finish in a year that should have been blazing with Tea Party activity. Was money and negative campaigning really it? I doubt it. It seems more likely that Romney’s four years of building a strategy and executing it on the ground is a more likely explanation. Gingrich had great pizazz and poor planning. Romney had little enthusiasm but great operational command. Yes money strength helps build organization but all the money in world, focused on the wrong things, won’t solve any problems.
The polls and the horse race look pretty bleak for us right now. That could be media oversampling and bias or it could be the truth. I am not going to play Pollyanna and say everything is right with the Romney campaign. I will say this. The election comes down not to fifty states but just a few and it comes down to how many people show up in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin that day. That has more to do with the ground game, moving people to polls and reaching thousands of voters and not millions. That is much more difficult to report on than the latest press release from a polling agency.
The reality is that our massive mainstream media has no way to figure that story out. That is why they went into election night 2004 believing John Kerry was going to win. That is how they messed up the 2008 primaries so badly. That is how they missed a massive wave election in 2010 that saw Tea Party people racing to the polls while Democrats stayed home.
Meanwhile when it comes to the ground game neither campaign is going to be honest and open. They won’t show their cards. If they believe themselves truly in the lead, if they have an operation infused with the latest technology and enthusiasm, they will only give hints and not real indicators. They don’t want to jinx it by coming off as arrogant or sending the signal to voters that they don’t really need to show up because everything is covered.
If the operation sucks, you won’t hear that either. Why? Because who wants to admit that?
How either campaign moves thousands in early voting and the day of the national election is the story not being covered. It is the story the media doesn’t know how to cover. That is why they keep getting it wrong. This was true when it came down to phone banking, on-the-ground street teams and mailing lists. It is even more so in an era where micro-targeting and the use of online tools to organize is dominating. While the media focus on Facebook likes and Twitter followers, a real revolution is happening in online advertising and GPS infused efforts. Little has been written of these tactics. What has been usually plays up the fears of “targeting” and cookies, missing the real revolution happening.
I still believe the signals are pointing against us and I worry we are seeing cracks in the hull of ship Romney. With that said, I have no idea how much effort has been truly put into moving masses in Florida and Ohio and a few other important states. Are we winning, losing or even when it comes to matching the get-out-the-vote efforts of team Obama and their union thugs? Only Election Day will show if the Romney ground game is a shining example of an organizational wizard at work or a McCain like organizational disaster poised to take down our Party. Whatever the outcome, the next six weeks leading up to it won’t be filled with many clues.