Obama Campaign's Grassroot Investment Paid Off

Republicans look to build support from the bottom up when it comes to policy.

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Supporters hold up a sign as they wait for first lady Michelle Obama to speak during a campaign rally at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, Nov. 3, 2012.

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For those wondering what the Obama campaign's secret sauce for defeating Republican rival Mitt Romney was, a top official says there's no substitute for hard work.

"People are trying to find the silver bullet to this … it was none of that," said Jeremy Bird, former National Deputy Director for Organizing for America, Obama's grassroots campaign group. "There is no shortcut to this."

Bird, speaking at the Center for American Progress earlier this week, said the campaign invested early on in people, local offices, and research.

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"We had specific goals in battleground states that we knew we had to get to an 'x' number of folks registered who we could then actually turn out," he said. "On Election Day 2012, we had more than 5,000 local staging locations that were run by volunteer leaders that had been trained like staff, treated like staff, and owned a piece of our campaign. That's the kind of local organization that we were building over several years."

This investment, which was often derided by state-level Romney officials during the campaign, was what made the difference in changing the face of the 2012 electorate, which Bird and others have said was crucial to Obama's victory. In fact, in dissecting their own campaign flaws, Romney officials said they went into election night believing they would win based on their internal polling, which underestimated the turnout of Latinos, blacks and youth.

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Bird also said the Obama campaign looked to "double down" on turning out early voters, particularly "working class, minorities and youth" who are generally less likely to vote on Election Day. The success of this effort is what fueled the Obama campaign's confidence going into Election Day, said Bird.

"I find it hard to believe that somebody didn't know the weekend before the election where this was headed, because there were 30 million data points of people who had already voted and we loved what we were seeing," he said of the Romney miscalculations.

Campaign officials and consultants on both sides of the aisle were quick to point out that leading up to and following Romney's loss, his campaign failed to maintain its infrastructure in primary states, which also eventually became key swing states in the general election. That includes places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida - all places Romney invested heavily in during his prolonged primary fight.

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President Barack Obama's incumbency advantage played a part in the amount of time his grassroots group had to invest in infrastructure and community contact-building. Bird said both paid staff and volunteers took the time and made the effort to "be everywhere that people [were] going to be." That meant barber shops, beauty salons, churches, soccer matches and more.

"That's a hard thing to do and put metrics on," Bird said.

And though Republicans are still parsing where they went wrong and how to fix it, some party leaders are already aware of the importance of building connections with voters from the ground up.

Both Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential candidate, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio mentioned the importance of engaging more closely with communities when it comes to affecting change in keynote addresses they gave at an awards dinner earlier this week.

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"What the federal government can do to confront societal breakdown is limited, but it's important," Rubio said. "And rather than pretend we know the answer, we should do as Paul Ryan suggests, by engaging those who do important work every day and mentoring young people and leading them on the right path – their teachers, their coaches, their parents, their priests and their pastors. Government leaders should take part and encourage a national conversation about the importance of civil society institutions and leaders in creating the social infrastructure needed to success."