Rich Beeson, the political director for the Romney campaign, says that the problem wasn’t the GOP get-out-the-vote efforts, but the astounding success of the Democrats to turn out groups that generally didn’t vote in such large numbers.
“We turned out the groups we needed to on our side,” Beeson says, adding that Democrats “did a better job of turnout than we thought they could do. They did alter the electorate.”
“The ground game worked fine,” Beeson continues, commenting that 160,000 more African-Americans voted in Ohio than had in 2008, while the percentage of 18 to 25 year olds who voted in Colorado jumped to 20 percent from 14 percent in 2008.
“We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”
Beeson contends that while Orca had its flaws on Election Day, it was a smart idea. “Did the overall system work the way that we wanted it to? No. But it is a good precursor for what I think we’ll want to be able to design and implement and improve on in coming elections? Absolutely,” he says.
The idea for Orca originated in the primary. The campaign was able to gather information about turnout from volunteers at the precincts, information that came in fast enough that “we were usually 15 to 20 minutes ahead of any of the network feeds,” Beeson remarks. But it wasn’t pragmatic to assume the system that had worked in the primaries could work. Volunteers were primarily calling in the results, with about 150 people at Boston headquarters taking the calls. The manpower to replicate that system wasn’t practical to obtain for the general election. With Orca, volunteers could enter in the data directly.
But in the primary, the campaign could see the value of having the data in as close to real time as possible. Talking about Super Tuesday, Beeson recalls, “We were 100,000 votes down to Rick Santorum [in Ohio] and we knew that through the day, we knew what our numbers were in Cuyahoga County, and that Cuyahoga was 200 percent of ‘08 turnout, and that we were winning Cuyahoga by 24 points, and so we knew we were going to win Ohio just based on all of that data, that ID data that we had, but also the reports coming through every day. As we were talking to our folks internally, even being 100,000 votes down, we felt confident we were going to win Ohio because we had had that data through the day.”
It also allowed them to determine how they were doing among specific microtargeting groups, both geographic and demographic, information that is valuable to a campaign.