President Obama's reelection team argued Thursday that it is already beginning to reap the benefits of its elaborate and expensive ground operation, arguing that party registration and early voting efforts lead Republicans in nearly every swing state.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina confidently predicted in a conference call with reporters, "the ground game we've built up over the past few years will help us drive hard right through that finish line."
But, Messina said, "this thing is far from over."
In a memo from Obama national field director Jeremy Bird, the campaign said that Democrats have out-registered Republicans in every battleground state over the past three months, while early voting numbers are outpacing the Obama numbers in 2008.
"Quite simply, we've registered more voters than '08, we've knocked on more doors, and we've talked to more people," Messina said. "At some point people are going to walk out of their homes ... and they're going to look at their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, their loved ones, and say, 'How do I make a decision on who I vote for in this election, and do I vote?' And that's the moment our field organization is going to give us a real advantage."
The campaign said that in Iowa and Ohio, registered Democrats have requested and cast more early ballots than Republicans, and by a larger margin than in 2008. In Florida, Democrats have more than halved the Republican lead in absentee requests from 2008. And in Nevada, Democrats have outpaced Republicans in absentee ballot requests — a reversal from the last election.
Meanwhile, a new batch of polls shows the race tightening in crucial swing states. An NBC News / Wall Street Journal / Marist poll released Thursday showed Republican nominee Mitt Romney gaining in Ohio, Virginia and Florida, while a similar survey from The New York Times and CBS News showed Republican gains in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Ohio.
But the Obama campaign argued Thursday that its field operation could help it hold ground, and emphasized efforts with youth, female and minority voters. According to the campaign, more than 80 percent of new registrants are women, minorities or under age 30.
The Obama team said it believed their advantage stemmed from getting into battleground states before Republicans had picked a candidate, putting them "months ahead in terms of our persuasion work.
"We have been in these communities for a long time, and we've been more prepared to get out the vote," Bird said on the conference call.
The Obama campaign added they had no plans to shift resources from some battleground states like North Carolina, where Mitt Romney has consistently polled better, to beef up its operations in more easily attainable states.
"Absolutely not," Messina said. "We understand we need as many pathways to 270 electoral votes. That's been the theory of this campaign since April, 2011, we think we have paths to victory in each of our battleground states and we're going to go prosecute those paths, and because of the outpouring of support from our grassroots donors we have the ability to compete everywhere we want to compete."
Republicans have also touted their ground game in recent weeks, with RNC political director Rick Wiley issuing a memo noting the GOP had already knocked on nearly three times doors than in all of 2008 and made six times as many phone calls as the same point in the last election.
"Since the spring, nearly 98,000 individuals have volunteered their time
to make phone calls or knock on doors. In total, they have made more
than 35 million voter contacts, including 6.5 million door knocks," Wiley wrote.
The RNC said it has also targeted 2.2 million swing voters and made significant inroads targeting Latino voters through bilingual voter contacts. Last weekend, Republicans held a "Super Saturday" project designed to make 2 million voter contacts in crucial swing states.
And the Romney campaign said Thursday that their momentum had picked up since the presidential debate.
“Since the debate, we’ve seen a 63 percent increase in volunteer hours, a growing enthusiasm gap that continues to favor Governor Romney, a strengthening of our already strong ground game, and we’re seeing the effects of this in polling numbers across the battleground states," said Romney political director Rich Beeson in a statement. "What the Obama campaign didn’t tell you is that we are leading or even with them in early vote in key states across the country – FL, NC, CO, NV, and NH. Our early vote numbers are outperforming voter registration in battleground states, demonstrating the strength of our ground game and the excitement for the Romney/Ryan ticket. Not only are we keeping pace with the vaunted Obama machine, but we believe our ground game will put us over the finish line on Election Day."
This post was updated at 5:06 p.m.