- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2014

As Election Day approaches, most analysts are focusing on campaign optics and poll data — who spends more on television or wins debates few voters watch. However, the winners on Nov. 4 may be determined by the largely unseen ground battle in the year’s many swing states.

Pollsters like to elicit answers from “likely voters,” respondents who say they are going to go to the polls or who have a history of voting, but the results will depend only on those who actually show up. Poll results have to be taken with a grain of salt; pollsters use mathematical constructs of one form or another to help them predict who will actually vote in any given election, and some even get it right. Sometimes, but good pollsters admit that as much guesswork as science goes into constructing samples that accurately reflect what will happen, as opposed to what’s happened in the past.

Even before President Obama’s approval numbers tanked this year, Democratic professionals knew victory this fall would depend not on their ability to persuade undecided voters, but on how effectively they would be able to identify, register and deliver voters they know will support their candidates if they can get them to the polls on Nov. 4.

There was a time when campaigns focused on persuading the uncommitted but persuadable voter to support their candidates, but that time has passed. Today’s campaigns are different. They are designed not to persuade, but to identify, motivate and deliver the votes of the already committed.

Mr. Obama’s rhetorical “mistakes” aren’t mistakes at all in this context. When he says his policies are on the ballot, regardless of whether Democratic candidates embrace them or not, he’s not trying to persuade anyone that his policies deserve support, but to let his partisans know that their votes are needed.

Remember, the president won a second term in 2012 by demonizing his opponent in order to suppress the Republican vote and by delivering enough additional Obama votes to alter the makeup of the actual electorate in his favor. That Mr. Obama still resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is testimony to how well the plan worked.

A few reporters recognized the potentially game-changing importance of the Democratic 2012 effort and the use of modern technology to essentially create a 21st-century precinct system, but only after the election were analysts able to truly appreciate just how much more effectively they had harnessed social media and new technology than the Republicans.

Regardless of public antipathy to Mr. Obama’s policies and their candidates’ standing in public opinion polls, Democratic professionals hope they will once again be able to win by outhustling their opponents on the ground. They have outspent GOP Senate challengers in virtually every targeted state by millions to both demonize the Republican candidates and to keep their candidates close enough to allow their get-out-the-vote effort a chance to drag them over the finish line on Election Day.

The effort received some press attention when it was launched by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Mr. Bennet believes he sits in the Senate today because he implemented just such an Obama-like effort in Colorado when he ran in 2010, changed the electorate and managed to win a squeaker in a bad Democratic year.

As he took the helm of his party’s campaign committee, Mr. Bennet announced what he dubbed the Bannock Street Project, named after his 2010 Denver headquarters. He pledged to put $10 million in every targeted state to build a ground operation to blow away his candidates’ GOP opponents. The effort includes full-time field offices and as many as 4,000 paid staffers utilizing the latest technology.

Last summer, Molly Ball of The Atlantic took a look at Arkansas, where Democratic Sen. Mark L. Pryor is fighting for his political life against Republican Tom Cotton. She discovered that the Pryor campaign was using the Bannock Street plan and money and had four times as many field offices open as Mr. Cotton, three times as many staff members on the ground and, according to campaign filings, was spending roughly five times as much as the Republicans. Similar operations were underway in the other Bannock Street-targeted states, including Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan and Montana at the time, though the list has no doubt been revised since.

Republicans have been working desperately to catch up. GOP Chairman Reince Priebus has raised funds and developed the talent he believes is required to match the Bannock Street ground effort, but he and his party aren’t there yet.

Only when the votes are counted will we know whether this technological and ground battle will overcome a Democratic lack of enthusiasm and public hostility to many of the president’s policies. If a Republican wave develops between now and Election Day, Mr. Bennet’s efforts may go for naught, but if the races in Iowa, Alaska, North Carolina and Georgia remain within the margin of error, the Bannock Street Project could save both the president’s ability to continue his policies and save Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s job.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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