By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
The outcome of the presidential election in Kentucky was never in dispute. But that didn’t mean a lot of Kentuckians didn’t play important roles in the national outcome which saw Barack Obama elected to a second term.
Scott Jennings, a Republican who headed state presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and worked in the Bush White House, headed up the Mitt Romney campaign in Ohio and several Kentucky Republicans went there to work with him.
People like Shannon Rickett from Corbin, Michelle Clark from Louisville, Todd Inman from Owensboro and several others spent six months working on various elements of the Romney campaign.
So did some Kentucky Democrats who worked in the Obama get-out-the-vote effort which had political operatives marveling at its precision.
In July, the Obama campaign contacted thousands of Ohio voters by phone, asking them how they planned to vote. Using an array of statistical data, including voters’ purchasing habits and voting histories, the campaign ranked individual voters on a scale of how likely they were to vote for Obama.
The campaign divided voters by how often they’d voted; by income and housing and other information. Then it divided them into committed and “tentative” voters and sent out an army of volunteers immediately before and on Election Day to make sure those voters who were known to support Obama actually voted.
“The supporters were identified by canvassing earlier in the campaign and then there was an almost relentless effort to get them to vote all the way up until the hour the polls closed,” said Libby Marshall of Frankfort who worked for the Obama campaign in 2008 and again this year in Cincinnati.
“On Election Day, there were three contacts per voter and that continued throughout the day until that individual said they had voted,” she explained.
“We were focusing on the person who doesn’t consistently vote or on first-time voters who we knew supported Obama,” said Jim Call, a retired state employee who lives in Frankfort and who with his wife, retired school teacher Sara Call, walked neighborhoods outside Cincinnati on Monday and then the next day on Election Day.
“Every place we stopped, everyone we talked to was for Obama,” said Call. “So (the campaign) had done their homework obviously. Our purpose really wasn’t to persuade. It was to make sure they voted.”
One method Sara Call employed was reminding Obama supporters who hadn’t yet voted that 537 votes in Florida in 2000 made George Bush president.
Jennings cited several factors in Obama’s win in Ohio that proved critical to his Electoral College margin over Romney, but a key one was organization.
The Romney campaign had its own door-to-door effort. Jennings said the campaign knocked on 2.89 million doors, more than double the original goal. And the Republican campaign turned around some counties in 2012 which Obama won in 2008 and also won two targeted congressional races. And Romney got more votes in Ohio in 2012 than John McCain in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2004 when he won Ohio.
“We thought if we could reverse the independents that voted for Obama in 2008 and if we could win the message on the economy we’d win,” Jennings said. “Well, we won independents by 10 points and I think we won on the economy. But where Obama made up for all of that was turning out his base voters.”
For instance, African Americans make up 11 percent of Ohio’s population but they were 15 percent of the vote on Election Day.
The Obama campaign enjoyed several advantages over the Romney campaign: the president didn’t have a primary and wasn’t limited financially by campaign rules which restricted what Romney could spend between the primaries and the convention when he officially became the nominee; during that time, Jennings said, the Obama campaign heavily outspent Romney on television advertising, defining Romney before the Republican could respond.
And Aaron Pickrell, who headed Obama’s 2008 Ohio campaign, never left the state after Obama’s first election. He had four years to build on the organization he’d begun during the first Obama campaign.
Sara Call said she and her husband were given informational packets on all the voters on whom they called.
“So by Election Day, they pretty much knew who would vote for Obama and our job was just to make sure they got to the polls,” Jim Call said.
Marshall said in some larger neighborhoods she was asked to call on only 15 or so potential voters. They were known to support Obama but weren’t certain to go to the polls. After each call, Marshall filled out information which was returned to the campaign.
“At this point, on Election Day, we were giving the campaign more information than they were giving back to us,” she said.
The data was so precise that at one point on Tuesday, the neighborhood headquarters out of which Marshall was working was closed down and “we were sent to another neighborhood that apparently had a higher treasure of voters and who needed more volunteers to get them to the polls.”
Jennings thinks his party should spend the next four years building similar organizations in key swing states “that we can then hand over to the next Republican nominee.”
He said while campaigns have become more sophisticated since the old days of precinct organization by local volunteers, now relying more on television and money, he still believes in one-on-one voter contact.
“Where you can still reach people and make valuable contacts is face-to-face and on their front porches,” Jennings said. “More people will answer their doors than will answer their phones.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.