McCain political director: ground game taking off

Though McCain’s ground effort started late, old Bush hand Mike DuHaime says it can catch up with Obama’s.

Robert Frazier
Mike DuHaime talks to reporters after a Monitor lunch Wednesday.

Four years ago, Mike DuHaime was in the middle of the well-oiled Bush reelection operation, helping organize the get-out-the-vote effort that would keep the Republicans in the White House for a second term.

This year, Mr. DuHaime is the top dog in John McCain’s campaign in charge of ground operations – overseeing all the staff and volunteers who knock on doors and make phone calls to get voters to turn out. And even though the McCain effort has lagged behind Barack Obama’s, DuHaime talks confidently about catching up.

“We’re going to have as many staff and offices as they have,” DuHaime told reporters Wednesday at a Monitor lunch.

He had clearly been looking at the numbers from four years ago. “Last week, for the first time, we did more phone calls and door knocks than the Bush campaign did in the same week of 2004,” said the 30-something DuHaime, who National Journal’s Hotline has called a “rising star.”

“It was well over a million. We’re on pace now where we do seven figures easily in a week and usually in a few days.”

Around the Republican convention, which was electrified by the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as Senator McCain’s running mate, the campaign got “a nice big boost, a shot of adrenalin,” DuHaime says. That has translated into more money, more staff, more offices, and a more robust get-out-the-vote drive – especially critical now as early voting starts in many states.

“We’re probably doing three times as many contacts now than we were even three weeks ago,” he says.

“Our field staff has doubled over the last few weeks in a number of … states,” he adds.

“Offices in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, in staff numbers, are doubling as we speak.”
DuHaime played down the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, which shows Obama ahead of McCain by nine points nationally, 52 to 43 percent.

“It’s an extreme outlier,” he says. “We believe the race is much, much closer than that. Other polls are much closer. Look at the state-by-state [polls], you don’t see any kind of margins like that.”

Indeed, the McCain campaign is feeling especially hopeful about Pennsylvania and Michigan, two states the Democrats won four years ago and which Obama has to win. Obama’s lead in both is only in the low single digits, according to averages of major polls. Other blue states to watch for McCain are Maine, Washington, and Oregon, he says.

But even if the McCain operation has gotten a late start in ground organization, DuHaime sounded optimistic that he could match the Obama team.

DuHaime himself only joined the campaign in July, after an upheaval at the top of the McCain campaign that brought in Steve Schmidt as the main manager.

For Bush, he said, he came on in July 2003 – more than a year before Election Day. “I had fired a state director by Christmas of ’03,” he says. “There’s certainly an advantage in any incumbent campaign – you get to start earlier, you get to put your team on the ground earlier, you don’t have to go through a primary. I had literally let go of people before the first primary had even happened that year.”

The irony, of course, is that McCain had sewn up his party’s nomination months before Obama, and yet the McCain team is now playing catch-up. But DuHaime maintains the GOP has what it needs.

“We have people in states, on the ground, as volunteers, as local committee chairs, local McCain chairs, who have done this, done it for congressional races, have done it for presidential races, have done it for governor’s races, who do it now for local races,” he says. “It’s become part of the culture of something that’s actually fun in our party now…. People enjoy this 72-hour program, which we now extend over, like, 100s and 100s of hours [because of early voting].”

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