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Politics / Issues

Behind the Scenes of the Get Out the Vote Effort in Florida

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Bobbie O'Brien
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WUSF Public Media

Nearly a dozen volunteers were burning up the phone lines inside Call Room #4 at the Romney campaign's South Tampa office.

Phone banks are nothing new to political campaigns on both sides. But technology has made them a lot more efficient and persistent.

“Someone sitting at a phone bank with a predictive dialer system can literally make four and five times the number of phone calls they were making in 2004,” said Brett Doster, senior advisor for the Mitt Romney campaign in Florida.

It's just one sign of a much stronger Get Out the Vote effort by the GOP in Florida this year, as compared to 2008. They're hoping it will help them erase the Democratic advantage in this area...just as the Democrats are working hard to close the gap in a traditional GOP strength, absentee voting.

Besides automatically selecting and dialing the voter, if there’s no answer, technology will immediately take over leaving a recorded message from former Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio or Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Doster said voter background data will help the automated system select which message to leave. Technology also allows the campaign to target individual voters with online ads on Facebook and through direct mail and to track if a voter has not returned a requested absentee ballot.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Phone volunteers call potential voters at the Romney Campaign office in South Tampa.

“And we are relentless,” Doster said. “You know people, they may often say I’m so sick of getting the phone calls, I’m so sick of getting the mail. And I always remind them and say look there’s one way you can make sure all that goes away - vote!”

Traditionally, Republicans excelled at rallying absentee voters in Florida while Democrats did better with early voting turnout.

Doster admits this year the Obama campaign has closed the gap on absentee ballots.

“The Democrats did do a fantastic job,” Doster said. “They’ve done an outstanding job of getting their absentee ballot requests up. We have done a better job of actually wrangling them back in and turning them into real votes.”

Improved Technology, Social Media

Ashley Walker, Florida director for the Obama campaign, said they worked hard to close the gap with Republicans among absentee or “mail-in” ballots.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Ashley Walker directs the Obama Campaign

“We’ve had the last year and a half to mobilize and really grow our neighborhood teams,” Walker said. “So we’re more organized which makes us more efficient thus more effective reaching supporters, undecided voters and our base voters so we can turn them out.” 

Walker said it’s a lot different than 2008 when the campaign only had four months to reach Florida voters. And they’re using improved technology and social media to contact potential voters and volunteers. The campaign has an online interface similar to Facebook called Dashboard.

“Supporters can go on Dashboard, they can learn about what they can do to make a difference in the campaign,” Walker said. “When a supporter joins Dashboard they get directly connected to an organizer and it’s just one more way that our campaign is trying to reach folks.”

But Democrats are not abandoning proven strategies like getting voters to the polls on the first day of early voting Saturday or their “Souls to the Polls” where supporters go from church to the nearest polling place to vote.

“There’s no one size fits all. We’re out there to fight and earn every vote here in the state,” Walker said. “And in order to do that, you need to utilize many different means to reach folks whatever means they use to seek out info.”

Each Campaign Thinks It's Winning GOTV

The Obama campaign has more than a 2-to-1 advantage if counting campaign offices – 106 to 49. The Romney campaign counters it’s not the number of offices but the effectiveness of the volunteers that matters.

Both campaigns are fervent in their belief that personal contact is the most successful way to motivate a voter.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
The Romney Campaign located its state headquarters in Tampa.

Doster is proud that his Romney volunteers have personally contacted more than 10.5 million Florida voters by phone or by walking neighborhoods.

“There’s no substitute for that,” Doster said. “There’s no technology, no candidate time, nothing that is the substitute for that voter to voter interaction.”

Ashley Walker is equally proud of the Obama campaign’s ground game and thousands of volunteers.

“At some point, you can no longer put a barrage of TV ads and spend millions and millions of dollars on TV,” Walker said.

“It really comes down to the personal conversations. Floridians are going to walk over to their neighbor’s house have a conversation and consider who they’re voting for and quite frankly if they’re going to vote or not.”