Obama Wins a Second Term With a Strong Ground Game

Organization and support from Hispanics and blacks key to victory.

Democrats celebrate reports that President Barack Obama won the election at the Ohio Democratic party election night celebration early Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.
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Even though Obama's main claim to history so far is his status as the first African- American president—the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya—race was not a big factor in the campaign, largely ignored by the candidates or their surrogates. Similarly, the other big potential social issue of religion—Romney was the first Mormon nominee of a major party—was also barely mentioned. If voters made up their minds based on race and religion, few admitted it to pollsters.

Instead, voters for many months said that their top priority was strengthening the economy, mainly creating jobs. And in the end, more voters considered Obama a better and safer bet than Romney because the economy ended its freefall on his watch. Obama had argued that he inherited the economic mess from his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, Romney didn't appear to offer much new or different from the Republican policies of Bush, whom most voters blamed for the severe recession of 2007 and 2008.

Obama's campaign and the Democrats spent many months attacking Romney as a plutocrat, a man of privilege, and an ex-investor who didn't understand the middle class and was more intent on promoting the rich and big corporations. This image badly hurt Romney.

Obama's campaign used a brilliant get-out-the-vote strategy engineered by campaign leaders Jim Messina and David Axelrod and encouraged by White House senior adviser David Plouffe, and it helped to put him over the top. Team Obama relied on technology and micro-targeting to identify voter concerns, focus on them, and get their supporters to cast ballots. They also outdid Romney's campaign in encouraging their supporters to vote absentee and through early voting systems that are becoming increasingly popular in many states.

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This emphasis on organization—what the political professionals call "the ground game"—was crucial to Obama's success. This wasn't surprising considering that Obama spent his early years as a community organizer in Chicago.

Now comes the hard part, as Obama goes back to the difficult business of governing. His honeymoon, if he has one, won't last long because Washington came out of Election Day just as divided as before.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," on usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook or reach him at kwalsh@usnews.com.