BOCA RATON — President Barack Obama's Florida campaign argued today that it has a ground game advantage over Republican Mitt Romney, who seems to be benefiting from a shift in polls in this crucial state in the race for the White House.
The memo from Obama Florida Director Ashley Walker points to a closing of a gap in absentee voting and gains made in voter registration since Obama beat Republican nominee John McCain in 2008.
"In 2008, Republicans built up a huge advantage in vote-by-mail which Democrats obliterated during in-person early vote to win the state by 3 percentage points. In 2012, Republicans have a much more difficult task ahead since they have already ceded two-thirds of the vote-by-mail advantage they started with four years ago," Walker wrote.
While more Republicans are requesting and returning absentee ballots, Walker noted that the margin is far smaller than it was four years ago. This year, just more than 900,000 Republicans have requested absentee ballots, compared to nearly 834,000 Democrats, or a difference of more than 61,000. But at the same point before the 2008 election, the difference in requested ballots favored Republicans by about 250,000.
Still, Obama won in-person early voting by a large margin. This year, however, the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott shortened early voting from 14 days to eight days, which puts more pressure on the Obama campaign to emphasize absentee voting. It's doing so by encouraging supporters to request absentee ballots in person and fill them out and turn them in on the spot.
Florida has 29 electoral votes, the most of any state that's considered a tossup. Republicans acknowledge that without Florida, Romney has little chance of winning the presidency.
Walker's memo also highlighted voter registration efforts, saying that the campaign never left Florida after the 2008 eight win and has trained 20,000 people to register voters. She pointed to increases in black and Hispanic voters, noting that Hispanics have been registering as Democrats in far larger numbers than as Republicans.
The Romney campaign pointed out that there's only one number that matters, and that's the difference in overall voter registration from 2008. There are almost 89,000 more Republicans now than there were four years ago, while the number of Florida Democrats has dropped by more than 94,000. Overall, Florida has almost 4.2 million Republicans and more than 4.6 million Democrats.
"The numbers don't lie. So they can talk about hustling and we can talk about hustling and the fact is that there's one number that matters," Doster said, pointing to the difference in overall voter registration. "We're still ahead."
Doster said that when he ran President George W. Bush's Florida re-election campaign, it set the standard for voter outreach efforts. He acknowledged that Obama built on the Bush model in 2008 and surpassed it by making better use of new technology. But he said Romney's efforts this year are just as strong and Obama has a disadvantage.
"Even with all that organization, the problem they don't have this time is intensity in their base because their message is bad."
One thing both sides agree on: Florida will be close.
"On Election Day, the race in Florida is always close. Since 1992, nearly 33 million ballots have been cast in presidential elections in Florida, while the average separation between the two parties over those five presidential elections is less than 60 thousand votes," Walker wrote.
Doster used a sports analogy.
"Florida's the Super Bowl of politics. Super Bowls are rarely blowouts, they're always close," he said. "Generally a ground game accounts for a winning field goal — 3 points, 4 points to get you over the edge."