Romney's Trouble On The Ground

I've been arguing over the last few days for journalists to be wary of the Santorum bubble, which I think will pop before it amounts to much, despite the current bounce in the polls. But Nate Silver raised an important point I missed earlier this week:

It is not clear, however, how much emphasis Mr. Romney has placed on this part of his campaign. When I visited the various campaign headquarters in New Hampshire, Mr. Romney’s office was the busiest and the best run (although Ron Paul’s was reasonably close). Still, Mr. Romney’s office in Manchester was the only one he had in the state. In contrast, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards each had 16 field offices in New Hampshire in advance of the 2008 primaries there.

I noticed a similar dynamic when I was on the trail in Iowa and Florida. Romney certainly outpaced his rivals when it came to campaign organization, even on the basics. It was at times bewildering covering Gingrich events without knowing where to park, which often resulted in me leaving my car on the grass by the side of the road hoping I wouldn't get a ticket. Romney events, on the other hand, would have an army of volunteers waving batons and directing cars to the proper lot. In the grand scheme of things, that's a minor hassle, but it is an indication of competency that likely translates to the actual important tactics of calling voters and getting your supporters to the polls.

Romney has built a campaign that is just good enough to dispatch a lackluster field of opponents. Santorum's sudden rise in the polls threatens that. A meager field staff would have been sufficient to dispatch Romney's competitors when he was the runaway frontrunner, yet might not be enough to right his path now that he's vulnerable. Even if it ends up being adequate enough to get through the nomination, I've been mystified at the lack of attention devoted to building campaign headquarters and volunteers across the country. Florida could have been a prime opportunity to get a leg up on the general election in a key swing state, but Romney only bothered to open a handful of offices. As divisive as party nominations appear, candidates typically use the race to prepare for the general election. So far, Romney hasn't seem to care all that much.

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