Obama's Organizational Advantage on Full Display in N.H.

Obama's Organizational Advantage on Full Display in N.H.

By Scott Conroy - April 5, 2012

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Almost three months after his resounding victory in the New Hampshire primary launched Mitt Romney toward the Republican nomination, his former campaign headquarters here is empty.

A "for lease" sign is plastered across the window of the inconspicuous storefront on Elm Street, and there are no indications that the staff and resources devoted to Romney's strongest early primary win are close to getting back to work in what is shaping up as an important swing state in the general election.

About a half-mile down the road on Maple Street is another campaign office that has been bustling with activity since it opened in October. Inside, young staffers from around the country and local volunteers are taking advantage of abundant resources to lay the groundwork for President Obama’s push to win New Hampshire’s four electoral votes in November.

Jez Taft, a 33-year-old volunteer from Manchester who also works part time at a local kennel, spent Wednesday morning on data-entry duty. Taft was an Obama volunteer during the 2008 campaign, and although she said the pace of the current campaign is calm, she is in no way tempted to slack off.

“The people I talk to personally are just as passionate as they were the last time, but I hear a lot of complacency, too,” she said. “People think it’s going to be easy. And for me personally, that’s terrifying.”

As a small but electorally significant state that is expected to be up for grabs in November, New Hampshire is a microcosm of the massive organizational head start that Obama’s re-election team enjoys over the Romney campaign, which is still working to wrap up the GOP nomination for the former Massachusetts governor.

The Obama team already has more than 30 paid staffers on the ground in New Hampshire and is expanding rapidly across the state. Its headquarters in Manchester is one of seven Obama field offices here, and the president’s campaign has already held several events in each of the state’s 10 counties.

By contrast, Romney does not have any paid staffers on the ground, and his campaign has barely maintained a footprint in the state.

Long enmeshed in a combative primary fight, the Romney campaign is only now shifting into serious preparations for taking on what is widely expected to be the most formidable ground game in the history of American politics.

Romney does retain some clear advantages in New Hampshire, but they are based largely on his background as the summertime resident of a home on Lake Winnipesaukee and as a familiar face from a neighboring state who has campaigned extensively here for the past five years.

“We’re going to be the underdog here,” said Jim Merrill, who was Romney’s senior New Hampshire adviser during the 2012 primary campaign. “We understand the president has a head start and he has that benefit as an incumbent, but we’re not going to cede an inch to him.”

Like other key former staffers here, Merrill travelled extensively to work elsewhere after the New Hampshire primary, serving stints in Florida, Michigan, Vermont and Maine. He has returned to his home in the state, where he serves as a political consultant for gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne. Merrill said he is awaiting marching orders from Romney headquarters in Boston while he quietly networks among the state’s political community and plots how he might reset the groundwork for a campaign operation that is, in his words, “waiting to be reactivated.”

Some Republicans have sought to downplay the value of building an early ground game for a general election in which hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on mass media.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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