Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 14, 2012

Still in Stage 1

I was all ready to finish off my 2012 election analysis with a little nerd-on-nerd action, comparing the Obama campaign’s big analytics push (and get out the vote operation) to Romney’s ORCA program, which, sadly for Mitt, died a painful death on election day.

And then I read this:

In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the “old playbook” of wooing specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.

“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said.

“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” he said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”

Charlie Pierce is on vacation, so I’ll just channel him with Jesus Christ at a condom stand, this is the guy who was the down and dirty businessman, data driven and unemotional? Obama won women because he gave those young sluts free contraceptives?

I’m just spitballing here, but maybe Mitt Romney’s cowardice when confronted with the most misogynistic members of his party and the Republican media establishment turned one or two women against him.

Let’s take the wayback machine to March, when Rush Limbaugh suggested that slutty-slut Sandra Fluke make a sex tape, among other wholesome thoughts, since he would now be paying for her sexytime.

Mitt Romney stood up and said, boldly, “…it’s not the language I would have used.”

(I indulged in a little West Wing debate fantasy after that gem, which, thanks to President Obama skipping the first debate for a standing meditation session, never happened, but I digress.)

Anyway, Mitt Romney would have totally won except Obama gave gifts to latinos, by not deporting children who had done nothing other than follow their parents into the United States, and to children, by allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance for a few years after college which the parents had to pay for, to the African-American community by being black, I guess, or maybe suggesting they be allowed to vote, and to college students by allowing them to pay back student loans as a percentage of income (I’m guessing here, because that’s the only thing close to “student loan forgiveness” I’ve heard about recently).

Fucking up his election-day voter tracking project had nothing to do with it:

When the Romney campaign finally brought up Orca, the “killer whale” was not ready to perform. Some field volunteers couldn’t even report to their posts, because the campaign hadn’t told them they first needed to pick up poll watcher credentials from one of Romney’s local “victory centers.” Others couldn’t connect to the Orca site because they entered the URL for the site without the https:// prefix; instead of being redirected to the secure site, they were confronted with a blank page, Ekdahl said.

And for many of those who managed to get to their polling places and who called up the website on their phones, there was another, insurmountable hurdle—their passwords didn’t work and attempts to reset passwords through the site also failed. As for the voice-powered backup system, it failed too as many poll watchers received the wrong personal identification numbers needed to access the system. Joel Pollak of Briebart reported that hundreds of volunteers in Colorado and North Carolina couldn’t use either the Web-based or the voice-based Orca systems; it wasn’t until 6:00 PM on Election Day that the team running Orca admitted they had issued the wrong PIN codes and passwords to everyone in those states, and they reset them. Even then, some volunteers still couldn’t login.

In Boston, things weren’t much better. Some of the VoIP phones set up for volunteers were misconfigured. And as volunteers tried to help people in the field get into the system, they ran into similar problems themselves. “I tried to login to the field website,” Dittuobo told me, “but none of the user names and passwords worked, though the person next to me could get in. We had zero access to Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Seems like the only state that was working was Florida.”


As the day wore on and information still failed to flow in from the field, the Romney campaign was flying blind. Instead of using Orca’s vaunted analytics to steer their course, Centinello and the rest of Romney’s team had no solid data on how to target late voters, other than what they heard from the media. Meanwhile, volunteers like Ekdahl could do nothing but vote themselves and go home.

And it wasn’t because they were operating with their own set of facts:

How did the Romney team get it so wrong? According to those involved, it was a mix of believing anecdotes about party enthusiasm and an underestimation of their opponents’ talents. The Romney campaign thought Obama’s base had lost its affection for its candidate. They believed Obama would win only if he won over independent voters. So Romney focused on independents and the economy, which was their key issue. The Republican ground game was focused on winning those voters….

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign was openly dismissive of the Obama ground game. Why are they wasting so much money with neighborhood offices, they asked? (In Ohio, for example, Obama had almost 100 more offices than Romney.) In retrospect, the Romney team is in awe and full of praise of the Obama operation. “They spent four years working block by block, person by person to build their coalition,” says a top aide. They now recognize that those offices were created to build personal contacts, the most durable and useful way to gain voters.

Who could have known? I mean, you’d have to hire a high-priced consultant to look at all the data and tell you what was and was not effective in getting out the vote, or, say, in evaluating the accuracy of polls. Too bad no one in the campaign had that kind of skill set…

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign took a leap forward in (somewhat creepy) data mining:

…early this year, the Obama campaign called more than 10,000 voters in the category and talked to them about the president’s views on healthcare and taxes, the official said. Then it called those voters back a few days later to find out if their opinions had shifted. The campaign analyzed those who had moved toward Obama to find out what they had in common and, from those results, created a separate model of persuadable voters for each swing state.

A data director applied the model to the voter databases and generated lists of voters to be contacted. Those were put in the hands of canvassers who were also armed with a script tailored to an individual voter’s pet issues.

The Obama campaign even found voters to target in ruby-red precincts, a break from earlier campaigns when solidly partisan precincts were simply written off.

Among its many decisions driven by data, the campaign chose to stick it out in Florida, even though polls and conventional wisdom raised doubts about Obama’s odds in the GOP-tilted battleground.

We all know how that turned out.

Slate’s John Dickerson noticed a contrast in the campaigns as election day approached:

The Obama team would shower you with a flurry of data—specific, measurable, and they’d show you the way they did the math. Any request for written proof was immediately filled. They knew their brief so well you could imagine Romney hiring them to work at Bain. The Romney team, by contrast, was much more gauzy, reluctant to share numbers, and relying on talking points rather than data. This could have been a difference in approach, but it suggested a lack of rigor in the Romney camp.

It looks like that lack of rigor is continuing in Romney’s personal post-mortem.

I chuckled a little this morning when Obama was asked, in his first press conference since before March Madness, whether he’d reached out to Mitt Romney, as he suggested he would on election night. I knew he hadn’t – it’s way too early, and even if Mitt hadn’t said things as stupid and offensive as the New York Times reported, the animus of the campaign takes more than seven days to wear off.

Before the election, as it became clearer that Obama would win and send Mitt Romney into retirement, I thought about what was next for Romney, other than time with his children and grandchildren and furtive visits to his offshore accounts. Romney is not beloved in the Republican party; he was chosen because they thought he could win, and they knew for damned sure that Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry would have been crushed last Tuesday. And yet those four people, who helped make a joke of the GOP nominating process, are still viable members of their party with influence, if not on people in DC, at least with the Republican rank and file out in Red America. Mitt Romney, because he lost when his only value was in winning, is left with nothing.

Gary Wills looked at post-election Romney and his diagnosis was, well, brutal:

What public service do we expect from Mitt Romney? He will no doubt return to augmenting his vast and hidden wealth, with no more pesky questions about where around the world it is stashed, or what taxes (if any) he paid, carefully sheltered from the rules his fellow citizens follow….

Other defeated candidates compiled stellar records after they lost. Two of them later won the Nobel Prize—Jimmy Carter for international diplomacy, Al Gore for his environmental advocacy. John Kerry is still an important voice for the principles he has always believed in as a Democrat. Michael Dukakis carries on as the college professor he always was, with no need to reject or rediscover any of the policies he championed. Robert Dole joined with McGovern in international nutritional projects….

Many losing candidates became elder statesmen of their parties. What lessons will Romney have to teach his party? The art of crawling uselessly? How to condemn 47 percent of Americans less privileged and beautiful than his family? How to repudiate the past while damaging the future? It is said that he will write a book. Really? Does he want to relive a five-year-long experience of degradation? What can be worse than to sell your soul and find it not valuable enough to get anything for it? His friends can only hope he is too morally obtuse to realize that crushing truth. Losing elections is one thing. But the greater loss, the real loss, is the loss of honor.

Maybe Romney can rediscover his old Bain consulting (not Bain Capital) self and apply his considerable intellect to organizational efficiency problems in the United States government, as President Obama suggested today. But he is, essentially, a man without a party, working through the five stages of grief. When and if he gets to stage five (and there’s no guarantee – I’m pretty sure John McCain’s still stuck in anger), he may well find that even though he has achieved acceptance, there is no one around willing to reciprocate.

[UPDATE: Edited for clarity]


  1. Love this bit: “Anyway, Mitt Romney would have totally won except Obama gave gifts to latinos, by not deporting children who had done nothing other than follow their parents into the United States, and to children, by allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance for a few years after college which the parents had to pay for, to the African-American community by being black, I guess, or maybe suggesting they be allowed to vote, and to college students by allowing them to pay back student loans as a percentage of income (I’m guessing here, because that’s the only thing close to “student loan forgiveness” I’ve heard about recently).”

    However, I, as a slutty woman who voted for Barrack, am still awaiting my free condoms. Tit for tat, as they say.

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