The Gaffe Governor and the Ground Game

In comments to Marc Ambinder, the McCain campaign has resoundingly confirmed what Nate and Sean had to say about Sarah Palin’s continuing importance to the ticket. She is critically important to the campaign’s efforts to mount any kind of ground game.

Here’s Sean, who has been road-tripping to gauge field operations of both campaigns.

As most of you know, I’ve been on the road for the past three weeks, so far visiting at least a dozen McCain campaign offices in six battleground states as well as Palin’s first solo rally in Carson City, Nevada. If McCain dumps Palin, it is over.

In the Colorado Springs volunteer office, “you could hear a pin drop” in the days before Palin was picked. In Reno, the volunteering had been anemic; the Saturday morning after the Palin pick, organizers arrived to an early morning volunteer line waiting at the door.

Our direct observation shows McCain is being overwhelmingly outworked on the ground as it is; take Palin away and you can add 2-5% to Obama’s total in every close state due to ground game.

And here’s the McCain campaign.

Palin is directly responsible for doubling the size of the campaign’s field operation, according to a senior campaign official, as she’s been a huge fundraising draw, bringing in, according one reliable estimate, more than $30 million for the RNC and its joint accounts. In the 12 hours after the announcement, she raised $4.4 million for the campaign.

She is directly responsible for luring more than 100,000 people to McCain-Palin events — and that’s on the low end of a guesstimate.

She has helped the campaign recruit thousands of additional volunteers. In the last two weeks, for the first time this year, the campaign has recorded more volunteer door knocks and phone calls than the same weeks 4 years ago.

 "Given that 2004 is the measuring stick, we’re proud of that," a campaign official says. "We were nowhere close to 2004 stats until about 3 weeks ago."

Her choice has gotten some of the louder social conservative voices to shut the heck up and stop complaining about McCain. The money and people that she has brought has been put towards opening at least 100 new field offices over the past two weeks alone.

Had McCain not found a way to gin up enthusiasm for his ticket, his get-out-the-vote machine would likely be half its size. [my emphasis]

Now, I’m not surprised in the least that two McCain officials are confirming what Sean has to say–Sean’s doing some of the most valuable reporting of the campaign this year, showing us data that doesn’t make the polls or the pundits. And empty campaign offices are a pretty sound measure of the ineffectiveness of a campaign’s ground game.

But I am shocked by the clarity of the confession these campaign officials made–all in an attempt to refute the appearance that Palin has become an anvil for the campaign. That is that, up until ten weeks before the election, the McCain campaign was far under-performing their field goals, perhaps by as much as half. 

Now, given the fact they out-performed the same-week totals from 2004 in the last two weeks, they’re obviously trying to play catch-up.  Probably, they’re trying to combine voter ID with persuasion, particularly in places like OH and GA that are already voting.

But in some key ways, you can’t make up for the two month advantage Obama has had. You can’t build the kind of block-by-block campaign organization you ideally want if you don’t start recruiting volunteers in earnest until mid-September. You can talk to voters, but you can’t really establish a relationship with them, nor amplify the efforts of each volunteer over time.

Nate and Sean are right. The McCain campaign will have to win or lose with Sarah Palin. But in their attempt to convince Ambinder that she remains critical to the ticket, these McCain staffers have admitted that McCain has already badly lost in a key measure of the campaign. 

  1. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    Well here is hoping her debate is as craptastic as the rest of her recent performances.

    Deer in the headlights should make even the die-hards pause.

  2. Leen says:

    O.k she is a good cheerleader. Friendly, loud, wears a tight shirt, lipstick, distracts from the game, great smile, lots of moves, flips and flops.

    Cheerleaders do not win games.…..racker.htm

    US: Obama 48, McCain 44 (Gallup 9/28-30)
    Posted: 10/01/2008
    Gallup 09/28-30,08; 2,746 RV 2% Mode:…

    US: Obama 50. McCain 43 (Time-9/26-29)
    Posted: 10/01/2008
    TIME 9/26-29/08; 1,133 LV, 3% Mode:…

    US: Obama 49, McCain 45 (DemCorps-9/28-30)
    Posted: 10/01/2008
    Democracy Corps (D) 9/28-30/08; 1,000…

  3. DefendOurConstitution says:

    Classic example of a double esged sword. Her strengths revive McCain campaign, but her negatives make it impossible for McCain to win the election.

    True that Palin cemented the zealot base for McCain, but after summer, when a candidate is supposed to be running to the middle, McCain found himself trying to appease the far right.

    I agree that it looks almost impossible for McCain to throw Palin under the bus now without him following her, but McCain’s prone to gambling and he could roll the dice with someone like Charlie Crist that would probably cement FL for him (note to Sarah Palin, FL has 27 EVs and AK has 3 EVS, therefore FL has 24 more EVs than AK).

    • emptywheel says:

      Right, so you trade FL for 3% in every other state, potentially making the difference in NV, NC, GA, and VA.

      Not to mention the anti-gay sentiment. Does Crist even have that beard fiancee he got so he could be considered any more?

      • FrankProbst says:

        Not to mention the anti-gay sentiment. Does Crist even have that beard fiancee he got so he could be considered any more?

        I’ve been wondering about that myself. I’ve been waiting for the “but we remain close friends” speech ever since Palin got the nod.

      • DefendOurConstitution says:

        NC and VA are already lost to McCain. Also think of all of the extra (ha ha ha) votes McCain would get from Log Cabin Republicans!

  4. FrankProbst says:

    Two months? Obama’s been working on his ground game since before the primaries started.

    In any case, it should surprise no one that Palin is bringing people with religious zeal into the campaign. She was, after all, chosen to appease religious zealots. But it’s surprising how far they had to go to find someone who could do this. Many of the right-wing favorites lost their jobs or retired in 2006. (Frist, Allen, and Santorum were all supposed to be big names. Now they’re all just punch lines.) There really weren’t any good right-wingers in the primaries except for Huck, and he killed his campaign by seeming to care about poor people. (I don’t even count Brownback. He’s just too creepy-looking to be a viable Presidential candidate.) Who else was left for McCain to pick?

    • emptywheel says:

      Since I live in MI, I can pretty safely measure when the last of Obama’s ground game got put into place to make the estimate very conservative (and of course, this is true of two of the key swing states).

      We got a local office in June (which is damned remarkable, given that the RBC meeting was May 31), and really got going in July. In 2004, by contrast, we got going locally in July, but got held up waiting for the Kerry campaign to catch up, with a real working office in place in August.

  5. TheraP says:

    They’ve boxed themselves in. Like lemmings they’re either trapped together or they go off a cliff together.

    RIP Lemmings.

  6. perris says:

    I am not willing to give this girl that kind of credit, we have no idea what would have happened if mccain or liberman were on the ticket

    mccain was a non starter and whoever he picked would have looked like a huge hit

    I am not willing to give this girl the credit the campaign gives

    • emptywheel says:


      You don’t have to believe the campaign–believe Sean, who is doing the legwork to know.

      She made an utterly measurable difference in the ground game. That’s not in the least surprising. They needed to fire up the fundies, and they did so in huge amounts. Without having done so, McCain would have kissed away 3% in the polls on election day because he didn’t know whose doors to knock, much less have people to do the knocking.

      Measuring that influence is different from saying she’s helping his campaign according to teh pundits or the polls.

      All in all, I suspect it is–at this point–a wash, but over the long term (particularly after the Branchflower report reveals potentially criminal behavior on October 10), she will sink the campaign.

      • perris says:

        but we have no idea how much the ground game would have been helped with mitt or romney

        the grand total is not the net total, that’s my point, the net would be the differance palin has made as oposed to whoever else mccain would have chosen

    • freepatriot says:

      I am not willing to give this girl that kind of credit,

      I am

      this is the fundies’ chance to shine

      I’ve been plugged in to politics for the past 15 years, watching the fundies anger grow

      sarah palin spent that time learning the fundie rant

      she has god, guns, and tax cuts, down pat

      the fundies don’t care about anything else, and she doesn’t KNOW anything else

      unfortuntunatly for mcsame, it’s a lot easier to be a fundie when you’re rollin in the mamen

      • Boston1775 says:

        this is the fundies’ chance to shine

        I’ve been plugged in to politics for the past 15 years, watching the fundies anger grow

        sarah palin spent that time learning the fundie rant

        she has god, guns, and tax cuts, down pat

        the fundies don’t care about anything else, and she doesn’t KNOW anything else


        She oozes this stuff.

        And you’re right; she doesn’t know anything else. Here’s Richard Vigueire’s call to unleash the pitbull:


        Richard Viguerie: Unleash Sarah Palin!

        Contact: Bob Sturm, 703-396-6974; after 6 PM Eastern, Bob Strum, 703-307-8176; Cynthia Chambliss, 703-930-5148

        MANASSAS, Virginia, Sept. 30 /Christian Newswire/ — John McCain may have one chance left to win this election, the Chairman of, Richard A. Viguerie, said. “He must free Sarah Palin to go after Barack Obama and the liberal Democrats, or he will almost certainly lose.”

        “The McCain campaign has put this ‘pit bull with lipstick’ on a leash. The campaign has surrounded her with people from the Bush administration. And as we can see from the wreckage of the Bush presidencies, these folks don’t have the slightest clue how to make a case to the American people.”

        “McCain has to get rid of these Bush people around Palin, along with the lobbyists and the folks from the Washington PR firms, and replace them with principled conservatives who have experience making the case for conservatism.”


  7. Arbusto says:

    I wonder if Sarah will have her hair down around her ears and/or a visible bulge in the small of her back tomorrow night.

    • Leen says:

      A “bulge” is not going to help her.

      She has backed herself into a corner with her lack of depth and understanding on domestic issues and her lack of knowledge on foreign policy. If Biden allows Palin to spin and spin. We will be witness to a self inflicted “rope a dope”

      The only people she can possibly win over are the folks who want someone in that office who knows as little as they do. They have all ready seen where that has brought our nation.

  8. drational says:

    Some ground game tidbits I picked up from looking at Florida/Ohio 2004 caging data (that came from the parody website):

    Bush Cheney 04, RNC, and State political parties were deeply entwined in organizing GOTV and “ballot security” measures, long before the convention. The Jacksonville caging scheme was mailed out by Republican Party of Florida in early August, and the lists were compiled and sent to RNC in Late August. Late august they were also exchanging big lists of voter data organized by precincts with telephone numbers and survey responses. There were also files with data about door knocks and phone calls- GOTV tabulation.

    My impression was that they were well organized and active long before the convention.

    I am sure RNC and state parties have been busy for a year, but wonder whether the Maverick put a damper on enthusiasm and also hurt some of the more nefarious aspects of the ground game.

    One can hope.

    • emptywheel says:

      Excellent point. You can’t even pull off good (as in, effective) voter caging efforts with this short of prep. Plus, they’ll simply have fewer volunteers to be IN the polls challenging on election day, because those volunteers are often the bottom of the pyramid, the kind and number of people they might not get to this year.