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Mitt Romney Looks to Close Ground-Game Gap

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

As Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney moves to capitalize on his October surge in the polls, his campaign is relying on ground-game and social-media strategies that aides believe have been underestimated.

Romney aides and GOP strategists familiar with the campaign’s social media outreach and voter turnout operation said they expect President Barack Obama’s effort on each front to be every bit as technologically advanced and effective as it was in 2008. The difference, Republicans contend, is the Romney campaign has built competitive get-out-the-vote and social media programs, eliminating 2008’s strategic deficit the GOP faced against Obama.  

“We’re doing things that have never been done before. This is the kind of operation the [former Massachusetts] governor wanted to put together. He wanted to put together an innovative operation,” Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson told Roll Call during a recent telephone interview.

Obama’s first presidential campaign pioneered the use of social media to reach, organize, motivate and turn out voters on a broad scale. The then-Senator’s team also refined the science of voter targeting and modernized the conventional ground game that relied on turning out voters on Election Day. In particular, Obama swamped Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican nominee, in the crucial battle for Americans who vote early or absentee. 

The Obama campaign has said its 2008 GOTV and social media efforts were “prehistoric” compared to now and emphasizes that it never shut down after the 2008 race ended, maintaining staff and volunteers in battleground states. 

But the Romney campaign is confident it can compete against what it expects is an Obama re-election effort better equipped than the president’s 2008 bid. Factoring into the Romney team’s confidence is what it contends is a superior rate of engagement by its supporters via social media — Facebook and Twitter — and accurate voter microtargeting that was battle-tested during June’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election.

“We have digital field staff in every target state, with regional digital directors for every part of the country,” Romney campaign digital director Zac Moffatt said in an interview.

The Romney campaign trails the Obama campaign significantly in Facebook “likes,” 30.6 million to 8.8 million. However, it boasts a higher percentage of followers that discuss the presidential campaign, with 2.64 million, or 30 percent, versus 3.2 million, or 10 percent, of Obama followers. The Romney campaign said its engagement rate has fluctuated from 30 percent to 40 percent during the past two months, compared with 5 percent to 10 percent for Obama.

The Romney campaign said it has seen similar engagement advantages on Twitter at different points in the campaign, despite Obama’s massive lead in followers. Romney’s Internet advertising is less ubiquitous than Obama’s, but the former Massachusetts governor’s team claims higher efficiency through more expensive, targeted buys, as opposed to the “echo chamber” purchases it says are employed by the president’s campaign.

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