Obama trumps McCain in people power, but to what gain?
His Nevada field organization outmans his rival’s. McCain, though, is making use of the GOP’s high-tech, well-tuned machine.
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The highly competitive early caucus in Nevada certainly helped Democratic registration efforts here, whereas only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul spent much time here tussling in the tumbleweed. But there was also a simple mismatch in manpower: Republicans had to pay for some voter registration efforts, while Democrats could rely solely on volunteers.Skip to next paragraph
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McCain’s operations received a thunderbolt of energy with his choice of Sarah Palin for veep. At a recent Palin rally in Carson City, volunteer Joseph Dimitrov walked up and down the line of some 4,000 people asking for volunteers to make campaign calls while they waited.
“When I first heard McCain had picked Palin, I said, ‘who?’ But then I looked up information about her, and I thought, I love this woman!” says Mr. Dimitrov, a student at University of Nevada in Reno.
The Palin event drew 150 volunteers, which was more than the campaign could even use, says Rick Gorka, communications director for McCain’s Nevada campaign. “We always had a lot of volunteers, but when Palin was added it just exploded,” he says.
But the real ace in the hole from the McCain camp’s perspective is their high-tech, streamlined approach.
At a GOP office in Las Vegas, volunteer Kris Del Campo shows off the efficiency of the McCain phone banking operation. His landline phone has a large digital display with buttons to input the multiple-choice responses of voters.
The automated system allows Mr. Del Campo to move through a list of names at least twice as fast as callers over at the Obama offices, who generally use their own cellphones and make handwritten notes that later have to be manually keyed into a database. At one point, Del Campo was able to have three phones working at once.
The McCain camp also gives machine-readable forms to its door-to-door canvassers.
“We just do things more efficiently, and we do a really good job with microtargeting, which isn’t just about whether you are a Republican. It’s not where you live, it’s how you live,” says Jessica Patterson, head of McCain’s Nevada campaign.
Microtargeting takes consumer data such as magazine subscription lists and hones a campaign’s effort toward those voters most likely to be sympathetic. Neither campaign would detail their underlying database technology, but Bloomberg recently reported that Democrats are beginning to close the gap with new software called Catalist.
Some experts, however, consider micro-targeting to be mostly hooey.
“Most of the info you need to put together a microtargeting model for turnout purposes is going to be available right on the voter file itself,” says James Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland. The most important piece of data is whether a person voted in the past, he says. Next is age, but that’s also on the voter files, which originate from the secretary of state’s office.