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The Pennsylvania Ground Game

During the final month of his presidential campaign, John McCain bet heavily on shoring up Pennsylvania – a state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1988, but came relatively close during the last election. The thinking went that if he could win enough working-class votes in the central and western parts of the state, demographically similar states such as Ohio and Indiana would follow. Moreover, with Virginia potentially cast off as a blue state by late September, the McCain campaign believed that it needed to win Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes to offset the potential loss of Virginia’s 13.

For this strategy to work, the campaign had to satisfy two essential requirements. First, it had to schedule regular campaign events throughout Pennsylvania. In this it succeeded: McCain and Sarah Palin spent a tremendous amount of time in Pennsylvania, holding rallies throughout the state almost daily. (At one point, Palin spent four straight days in Philadelphia, hitting up local bars and cheese steak joints while studying for the vice-presidential debate during her down time.)

Yet, as far as I can tell, the campaign failed in fulfilling the second essential requirement of its Pennsylvania-centric strategy: producing a top-notch “ground game,” i.e., a well-organized volunteer effort for getting voters to the polls. In Philadelphia, the Obama campaign is absolutely dominating: on every couple of blocks, groups of volunteers are going from door-to-door, clipboards in hand, making sure that registered Democrats have voted. It’s been going on since Saturday – Obama folks have rung the doorbell of my politically mixed household at least five times (!), twice leaving colorful door-hangings containing polling site information. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign reminded its local supporters of their polling sites via e-mail – the type that is typically directed to your spam folder.

Granted, this could just be the case in Philadelphia, which is basically a one-party city (80% of Philadelphians voted for John Kerry in 2004). Still, to the extent that the McCain campaign is counting on every vote it can get to win Pennsylvania, the lack of coordination between the McCain campaign and local Republican volunteers in the state’s most populous city is surprising. If McCain loses a close statewide race, look to turnout differentials between Philadelphia Republicans and Democrats for a possible explanation.

UPDATE: Loudspeaker-equipped cars, with music blaring, are now circling my neighborhood asking people to put up their hands if they’ve voted. Guess which campaign sent them.