COLUMBUS, Ohio — Yesterday, The National Journal took a deep dive into the grassroots efforts of the Portman for Senate Campaign saying, “Ohio Democrats are now scrambling in what was once considered a top Senate pickup opportunity thanks in part to an aggressive grassroots campaign by Sen. Rob Portman that strategists from both parties have praised for boosting the first-term Republican over his better-known challenger.”
From Andrea Drusch with The National Journal:
Ohio Democrats are now scrambling in what was once considered a top Senate pickup opportunity thanks in part to an aggressive grassroots campaign by Sen. Rob Portman that strategists from both parties have praised for boosting the first-term Republican over his better-known challenger… Meanwhile, recent public surveys show Portman leading Strickland even with Hillary Clinton out in front in the battleground state.
National Democrats are now shifting resources out of the state, with Portman one of the few down-ballot Republicans significantly outpacing Donald Trump two months before Election Day. It’s a stunning swing given the state, the challenger, and where Portman stood among the most vulnerable senators at the outset of the cycle… And Portman himself has raised more than any of his GOP colleagues in battleground reelection races, allowing him to start paid media in June as part of a $14 million airtime reservation through Election Day…
Strategists from both sides of the aisle who have moved this race down the priority list say the changing race is more than just a spending disparity, praising Portman for running a near-flawless campaign. As outside groups damaged Strickland, Portman’s image improved significantly, more so than many of his fellow well-funded colleagues.
“If [Portman] loses, it’s because there was no campaign that could win that state that year,” said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
In particular, national GOP strategists are now pushing other Senate campaigns to replicate Portman’s army of volunteers, who his campaign says have knocked on more than 3.5 million doors. Armed with data from the GOP firm i360, Portman’s volunteers—mainly students—divvied up the electorate with issue-specific messages, followed up with paid digital media that echoes that particular message.
“One of the central strengths of Portman’s campaign is his personal approach to grassroots organizing,” said John Ashbrook, a strategist with the GOP firm Cavalry LLC., which advises several Senate campaigns, including Portman’s. “Other Republicans have tried to replicate President Obama’s community-based field strategy, but Portman’s team in Ohio is one of the first to do it successfully.”
Portman campaign manager Corry Bliss said that effort dates back to the spring of 2015—long before Trump—when the campaign set up field offices and recruited volunteers from every high school and college in the surrounding area. The goal, he said, was to build a canvassing team that would be ready regardless of what the eventual coordinated effort looked like.
“Anyone can get great data, but our strength is that we have the manpower to knock on all the doors, make all the phone calls and put that data to use,” said Bliss, who meets weekly with field directors to monitor progress on the 22 targeted subsections of the electorate.
Portman’s campaign has also drawn praise from digital strategists, who say their use of technology has enabled such an effort to work, even with a staff of mostly unpaid students.
Lee Dunn, Google’s head of elections for Republican campaigns, said Obama’s 2008 campaign was “credited for using flashy tools, but they used those tools to augment the very traditional thing that you still need to do in politics, in terms of grassroots, door to door and phone contacts. That’s similar to what the Portman campaign is doing.”
Dunn said Google created custom metrics for the campaign to slice and dice the electorate, which, along with the volunteer base, helped allow for the unusually large number of voter contacts. (Google also works with the Strickland campaign, but the divisions are separated by party.)
“In terms of the volume of what we’ve seen from their volunteer staff operation, it was substantial well before Donald Trump or any nominee, and well before that kind of RNC–driven victory operation was started,” Dunn said…