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It Was Axelrod’s Understanding There Would Be No Math

August 29th, 2012 - 11:30 am

Jonah Goldberg adds and subtracts the big numbers so you don’t have to:

I keep hearing defenders and even objective analysts saying that the Obama campaign’s financial “burn rate” isn’t that big a problem because the Obama campaign is making long term “strategic investments” in “infrastructure” that will pay off down the road (Sound familiar?). Here’s Obama campaign press secretary Ben Labolt: “Since we knew from the outset that Republican super PACs would likely outspend us on the air, we made a decision to invest early in building the largest grassroots campaign in history so that our supporters could engage in 500 days of persuasion with their networks.”

I have three responses to this. First: “Well, see.” Investments can only be verified as wise when they pay off.

Second, I’m not sure it’s even true. If you look at what the Obama campaign is spending on, it’s not immediately apparent it’s even spending a lot on all of this infrastructure stuff. It’s certainly not true that all of the campaign’s deficit spending is the result of anything other than ad-buys.

In July, Obama for America took in $49.1 million and spent $59 million. Of that Obama spent more than $48 million on advertising (more than double Romney’s expenditures. The breakdown: $39 million on conventional ad buys, $8.7 on online ads, $2.9 million on payroll, $1.2 million on payroll taxes (!), and polling $900,000.

So how do we square that with this report from WaPo’s Aaron Blake? Read:

Democrats are winning at least one key aspect of the 2012 campaign: voter contact.
Some Republicans are starting to fret a little bit about their ground game and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that fear is at least somewhat justified.

According to the poll, 20 percent of registered voters say they have been contacted by the Obama campaign, compared to 13 percent who say they have been contacted by Mitt Romney’s campaign.

That’s on-par with the gap at the same point in the 2008 campaign, when 18 percent of likely voters said they had been contacted by the Obama team and 11 percent who said they had been contacted by Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) campaign.

But it didn’t use to be the case. The Republicans’ voter turnout machine was once vaunted – particularly its 72-hour voter mobilization program.

McCain’s ground game sucked eggs. Period. It couldn’t have been more lackluster had McCain personally spiked all the campaign HQ coffee makers with Demerol. If Romney is using the pathetic ’08 effort as his yardstick, he’ll deserve to lose. Locally, my friend (and sci-fi author with a new book coming out) Sarah Hoyt emailed me that she’d received three phone calls from the Obama campaign, and none from Romney. And the Obama calls kept coming, despite some unladylike things she might have said to a pollster or three. She’s worried, maybe rightfully so, that Obama is doing such hard work in GOP-friendly Colorado Springs, while Romney is seemingly doing nothing.

But all the phone calls might have something to do with a article from The Hill from July. Dr. David Hill, a GOP-affiliated pollster, wrote:

What’s up with all that polling the Obama camp is doing? Recently the folks over at the Weekly Standard combed through campaign spending disclosure records of the Obama campaign and related committees, discovering that they’ve spent $15 million on polling since the first of the year…

Let’s try to put some metrics to this. Using my own firm’s rate card, $15 million for polls would compute to about 6 million minutes of polling time. Assuming interview lengths of 10 minutes, that’s like 600,000 interviews. More than a half-million times, the Obama campaigners may have approached randomly sampled Americans to see what works and what doesn’t.

Seems to me as though a big part of Obama’s vaunted ground game this time around consists of sniffing around voters for wedge issues, in numbers no candidate has ever done before.

Is that smart politics, or is it desperation? When you’re down 16 points with independent voters, is there a difference?

UPDATE: Sarah read this and emailed to say, “Obama’s Magic Eight Ball Campaign. He’s polling that much because he doesn’t like the answer. He’s trying ‘ask again.’”

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