Obama keeps eye on Ohio ground game

President Barack Obama gives a speech in Bowling Green, Ohio 26 September 2012 Recent opinion polls have shown President Obama leading in Ohio

"It's been a long, long, long time coming." The young man wrings every last ounce of emotion from the Sam Cooke classic that became the theme of the civil rights movement.

He ends up - to laugher and applause from the audience - crooning: "With President Obama change will come... Ooh yes it will."

He is the star act at the opening of the Democrats' latest field office in the key swing state of Ohio. This one, in the small city of Xenia, means there are now over 100 field offices in this vital state and the volunteers gathered seem imbued with a sense of righteous mission.

Billions of dollars are being spent on adverts, President Barack Obama is in the state for his 29th visit and the Washington Post has an article detailing how federal money seems to have poured into the state, where unemployment is now lower than the national average.

Ohio is seen as critical - it has voted for the winning candidate in the last 10 presidential elections.

Art of canvassing

Ads, money and visits will all have an influence on the outcome of the election, but perhaps the people in Xenia, and those like them, are the foot soldiers who will really deliver victory - or defeat. This is the ground game.

The walls are decorated with signs of varying degrees of professionalism. Some are glossy printed products: Women for Obama, African Americans for Obama, and Gotta vote.

Dorris Adams Dorris Adams came out of retirement to canvas for President Obama

Others are home-made reminders in felt-tipped pen of the countdown to postal voting, the need for someone to buy loo paper and an introduction to the senior staff.

Twenty-something Nicki's favourite colour is green, and favourite foods are mac-and-cheese and sushi (not together, one hopes).

When I start asking questions about strategy and ask for an interview, she tells me she is too cute to be interrogated. Too acute, too, probably. The ground game is Team Obama's secret weapon.

It is frustrating trying to get a handle on how it works in detail. At the Obama HQ in Chicago I have seen the relentless focus on the individual groups that made up the Obama coalition in 2008 - from Hispanics to gay people to single mums.

Here, I do not detect that narrow targeting. But there are a lot of lists and a lot of data and a reliance on the old-fashioned art of canvassing.

Race to the White House

The Democrats' county chair, Doris Adams, tells me Xenia is the belly button of Republicanism - and she seems to be determined to give the rival party a poke in the tummy.

She tells me that at 65 years old she had hoped to start her retirement re-watching Midsomer Murders and Poirot, the British murder mysteries she loves, but the cause is too important.

She believes in the old-fashioned art of personal canvassing.

"Every vote counts and we are going after every vote, sharing our vision for the future," Ms Adams says.

"When somebody talks to me about the issues that they are afraid of we can reassure them there is hope for the future and not listen to the smoke-and-mirrors and the fear that is mongered."

Encouraging voter turnout

Earlier, I went out canvassing in another area of Ohio, near Dayton, with volunteer Terrance Hodges.

This is the basics, the foundation. He has a list that will say how someone voted in the last election and his job is to find out what they will do this time round.

One Strong Obama has switched to Strong Romney. He will report back to his field office, but moves on without trying to persuade.

He has two sets of leaflets. Someone leaning to Mr Obama will get a glossy brochure, setting out the case for the president's re-election.

But strong supporters get instead a form encouraging them to use a postal vote, or absentee ballot, as they are known here. This has multiple benefits (and the Romney team are doing the same).

Mr Hodges says: "It's a lot easier. It's not a hassle for them. They could be watching TV in their house, filling out the form and mailing it back out.

Terrance Hodges knocks on doors

"As soon as you start putting limitations on people's voting behaviour you are disenfranchising them.

"Voter turnout is not that high and we want to keep that number, raise those numbers, and make voting as easy as possible".

I suggest it also makes it easier to check up whether people have voted, and push them to do so, but he demurs.

I bet if people say they will use a postal vote, they can expect a follow-up phone call or two.

I have long said the key to this election will be turnout. President Obama has to reassemble as much of his 2008 coalition as possible to win.

For him, people who prefer him to Mr Romney, but cannot be bothered to get off the sofa on polling day, could end his hopes of a second term.

That is why I am cautious about those opinion polls for President Obama in this state.

People may describe themselves as "likely voters" to pollsters, and still not do the deed on election day.

Persuading them to vote by post means the vagaries of the weather, last-minute doubts or a car that won't start are removed from the equation.

Elections are like war in one thing at least - what goes on in the air is vitally important, but in the end the game is won by foot soldiers on the ground.

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US Presidential Election 2012


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  • Comment number 232.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    the reason why i look on Mitt's claim about cutting taxes suspiciously is that by his own admission 47% do not pay fed income taxes because rates are already so low. In fact the government is now giving money away to many who are officially middle class(> 46k p.a.).With this deficit/debt how much lower can you really go? Taxes WILL increase in the next presidential term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Andrea: "job creation"?

    The problem is, even if Obama or political ads say things that aren't true, many people believe them

    Obama will say anything to get elected
    no matter how negative or nasty it is

    You could say the last election was based on lies+
    this election is based on lies too

    Its like whoever lies the most gets the prize
    I know I feel Obama lied to me+thats why he won

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    228. modelling king
    I am an American who believes the person in the White House is not a job creator, unless it's one paid directly by govt
    A deluded American who believes Romney has a hope of winning

    Only a fool would call this election so soon.

  • Comment number 228.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    25. modelling king

    But you are a Romney trooper fighting to keep billionaires alive

    I am an American who believes the person in the White House is not a job creator, unless it's one paid directly by govt.

    We are soon going to be facing some very hard decisions on spending, and the LAST thing we need is someone who can't forge an agreement, whether by will or by negotiating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Lou: form of ID

    Every single American citizen in USA has a social security number+ American birth certificate

    Illegal immigrants+non citizens don't have such
    which is why they shouldn't be allowed to vote

    In all honesty
    voter fraud scares me more than anything

    How can we trust early voting if its all done by mail?

    I believe early voting except for our soldiers should be banned

  • Comment number 225.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Scott: just like having invitation only campaign talks recorded secretly by the opposition

    In all honesty this reminds me of Richard Nixon+Watergate

    In Watergate they broke into Dem headquarters+stole stuff

    In Obamagate they illegally recorded Repub private meetings

    They say history repeats itself

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    look no further than Europe to see how àusterity`is working out. Lots of weeping , wailing, burning, stoning,clashing. The good times huh. Time for some tough medicine from Mitt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    If legitimate American citizens cannot find or obtain any form of ID within 90 days then that is their problem. Just like somebody who pulls the handle, or punches out the holes, for the wrong candidate then all of that is on them. No do overs, no resets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    220. modelling king

    The next stage after stopping stimulus spending and implementing austerity is the collapse of the economy

    Interesting that job creation doesn't even factor into the equation any more. Just more govt. spending. How many times will Obama rehire teachers and call it "job creation"?

  • Comment number 220.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    The rights to Free Speech are not absolute. I cannot enter a crowded theater and yell fire, without there being one. Why? Because by that act I have created an event where public saftey is at risk. However, if I were to take a picture of a Crucifix emerced in a glass filled with urine and put it on display for all to see is that protected by the First Amendment? Yes it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    ref #207

    Considering that Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas financially their threat is genuine.

    Why is it hard for people to forget the lesson of the Nazs their is no difference between the hate of islamists and nazis

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    211. modelling king

    They didn't vote for stalemate and economic hardship
    GOP damaged America with their games
    and USA and the world were horrified

    Actually, they voted for less spending and smaller govt. The stalemate came from an inexperienced and weak president not being able to close a deal with republicans. (Woodward tells it all in great detail.)

  • Comment number 216.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Polls mean nothing, last minute vote ID laws will see to it that many will not be allowed to vote since they can't get their ID on time unless they are very proactive. If voter fraud was such a concern these laws would have been passed long before election day but pass these laws 90 days before or less.... we know why.


  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    204. Curt Carpenter

    AndreaNY@167"...it was the democrats that caused that election backlash... "

    What I'm hearing is an admission that the Republican right has no constructive program to offer

    Not from me you're not.

    This is what you hear regardless of what I or any other republican say. This, republicans believe in "Every man for himself" and we have "The Great Choice".

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    In the same vain, many Americans found the burning of the American flags, the storming of our embassies, and the killing of 4 American citizens on the anniversary of 9/11 extremely offensive to our national pride and as a symbolic attack against our way of life.


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