As polls show President Obama taking a hit after his lackluster debate performance last week, the campaign is talking up a different set of numbers they say will ultimately deliver an Obama victory: the campaign’s ground game.
“Every morning, the first thing I read are numbers,” Jim Messina, the campaign manager, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “Not poll numbers. The numbers that mean something to me: Registered voters, ballots requested and early votes cast.”
In a memo and on the conference call, campaign officials talked up their edge in the three areas across almost every swing state. Not only is the campaign ahead when it comes to ground organization, Messina and Jeremy Bird, the campaign’s national field director, explained, but they’re even further ahead than they were in 2008.
The takeaway: Democratic party registration is higher than Republican in almost every swing state and registration is up among groups that are predominately Democratic including Latinos and other minorities, women, and people under 30 years old.
On a state-by-state level, the memo said Obama has a wider lead in early voting in Iowa than he had at this point in 2008. The same goes for Ohio. In Florida, the campaign says they have cut the Republicans’ 2008 edge in absentee mail voters from 275,000 in 2008 to 70,000 in 2012. The GOP edge in early ballot requests is also down from four years ago in North Carolina — although by just 5,000. And in Nevada, Democrats lead in absentee ballot requests after a 8,000-ballot deficit in 2008.
In Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina and Nevada, Republicans enjoyed a combined advantage in absentee ballot requests of 259,000 at this point in the 2008 cycle. Democrats say that advantage for Republicans is now just 64,000.
As the campaign has been doing for months, Messina stressed that the volunteer-based efforts across battleground states represent a long-term investment in grassroots organizing that the campaign says Mitt Romney cannot match. Republicans, for their part, are also talking up their ground game. After Romney’s debate win last week, Republicans boasted about a surge in volunteers and 2.5 million voter contacts in one day.
Democrats want to put the last debate behind them, but Messina said he’s looking forward to Thursday’s vice presidential debate. He set up the debate as a lose-lose situation for Paul Ryan. Either Ryan can adopt a “dishonest strategy” like Mitt Romney did in his first debate, Messina said, or he can “stand by the very extreme positions he’s taken as the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”
Messina added that he expected Ryan to do the former and walk back positions like “vouchers on Medicare” and “whether he wants to redefine rape as he proposed in Congress.”
Messina’s comments on the debate, which echo a memo from deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on Thursday, indicate that Democrats intend to for Vice President Joe Biden to hold Ryan not only to Mitt Romney’s policies, but to his record in Congress as well.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.