The Air and Ground Games in Ohio
Posted by ikabod Crane on 02.27.2008
No this is not a college football column - GOTV armies, John Glenn, massive and small rallies, Governor Ted Strickland, populism, early voting drives, and phone banking are all on display in Ohio.
Two polls released on February 25 showed Hillary Clinton leading Ohio by 8 to 11 points but also suggested Obama was making inroads into her lead. This sets the stage for a massive effort on both sides to win the Buckeye State. Since I live in Ohio, I will give my firsthand outlook on the ground and air games being carried out in Ohio.
Air Wars: Clinton and Glenn versus Obama's Tailored Message
The air campaign in Ohio has been underway for nearly two weeks. Hillary Clinton's ads have been hitting on economic themes. They have also featured NASA hero and former Ohio Senator John Glenn. These ads have tried to convey a sense that Hillary can be trusted with the economy and that Hillary has worked the night shift. John Glenn centered ads talk about Hillary's Midwestern upbringing and values. John Glenn also assures voters that Hillary will work to reform trade deals such as NAFTA. As we know from the NAFTA mailing rant, how Hillary's stance on NAFTA is perceived is a massive key to who wins Ohio.
Barack Obama's television ads do not have the local star power of John Glenn. They have followed a pattern. The first wave of Obama ads seemed to be aimed at familiarizing Ohio voters with Obama's life story emphasizing his work as a community organizer for Chicago area churches and his accomplishments at Harvard Law School. The second wave of advertisements that Obama is currently running are focused on economic issues and uncertainty in Ohio. These ads are tailored to the key issue facing economically troubled Ohio. One ad urges voters to call for a free copy of his economic plan. Obama is running more ads than Hillary, but likely has less name recognition in Ohio. At present, I would call the air war a draw as each candidate is running positive ads and is effectively conveying their desired message.
Ground Game: Everything Plus The Kitchen Sink
Obama's Get Out the Vote (GOTV) team is larger than Hillary's. Word is he is going to try to turn out votes in precincts with large numbers of Republicans and Independents as each can request a Democratic ballot by Ohio primary rules. Hillary's smaller team will be focusing only on primarily Democratic regions. Obama is also unleashing a massive vote early campaign that will in theory help turnout high numbers of voters who are often considered unreliable to show up on Election Day due to job demands, lack of transportation etc. Obama has also been holding massive rallies at arenas throughout Ohio. 5000 people were turned away from a rally in Akron! He hit the University of Cincinnati and Wright State University (in Dayton) on Monday February 25. Massive efforts at canvassing are being undertaken by Obama's grassroots ground up approach to campaigning. Obama's team of volunteers are also phone banking in huge numbers.
Hillary's ground game is based upon star power more than sheer numbers. Hillary, Chelsea, and Bill Clinton are crisscrossing the state. Hillary's phone calls have come in the form of pre-recorded messages from her rather than a live volunteer. This has its strengths and weaknesses as volunteers can fumble, but pre-recorded messages are less personal. Ohio's governor Ted Strickland along with John Glenn add to the local appeal of Hillary's campaign. This is not surprising because Hillary's general election plan was to make a huge effort to win Ohio in November. These rallies have not been as large in scale as Obama's, but due to the roots Hillary laid down in Ohio throughout 2007, they may be equally effective. Hillary seems to have both a higher than average ceiling in Ohio and a high floor of support. If Obama can turn out and pick off enough voters, he can overtake Clinton, but the recent polls show it is perhaps a taller task than in Texas. Then again the polls in Wisconsin underestimated Obama's support by 10-12%.
Third Party Ground Games
After Al Gore's unexpectedly close loss in Ohio during the 2000 general election, Ohio jumped onto the radar as a battleground state for Democrats contemplating the 2004 presidential election. This article from Politico demonstrates that John Kerry turned out a record number of Democratic voters in 2004 only to be outdone by Karl Rove's turnout the Evangelicals strategy that included a statewide referendum on gay marriage. The 2004 efforts along with electing Ted Strickland as Ohio's governor and Senator Sherrod Brown in 2006 turned Democratic fortunes around in Ohio. The article notes that the 2004 apparatus has split between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama while Emily's List is behind Hillary and Moveon.org is behind Obama.
Union support has been shifting to Barack Obama. Ohio's largest union the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters have each endorsed Barack Obama. These unions are good at turning out their voters. As we saw in Nevada, union members can break with their union endorsement. Therefore, Hillary is not totally destroyed by these endorsements, but they likely shift some undecided voters and previously soft Clinton supporters to Obama. The unions may also link Hillary Clinton more closely to NAFTA than she would prefer. Finally, SEIU is now running third party pro-Obama television ads. This only increases his lead in television presence. Obama's Ohio strategy centers on two factors: 1) Turning out large numbers of voters including first time and what have been known as statistically unlikely voters and 2) Eroding Hillary's strength among blue collar Democrats. These union endorsements likely assist Obama on both fronts.
Conclusion: Hillary Currently Leads, but Obama Could Overwhelm Her Numerically on the Ground and in the Air. Therefore the Week that Remains before the Primary is Going to be a War.
Two Key Questions: Does Hillary Spending Time and Resources in Ohio throw Texas to Obama? Does News of Obama's Momentum in Texas throw Undecided Voters in Ohio to Obama? My Guess is Ohio is for the Most Part a Microcosm that will not be Impacted by Texas, but Even a Shift of 1 to 2% Could Sway the Race