Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
As most of the political world’s attention is captured by the circus of the Republican presidential primary, Barack Obama’s campaign has been assiduously reactivating the formidable infrastructure that helped drive him to victory four years ago.
Obama and the Democratic Party have been pouring organizing resources into battleground states such as Nevada, recruiting volunteers, building social networks, holding outreach events and registering voters.
That same machine will be used to identify and turn out supporters next November.
And the bad news for Republicans, who have largely skipped Nevada in their primary contest, is Obama doesn’t have much work to do to rejuvenate an organization he has been maintaining since he won the state by 12 points four years ago.
“The organizing efforts actually have been pretty good and pretty consistent for a couple of years in Nevada,” said Chip Evans, former chairman of the Washoe County Democratic Party, a key swing county in Nevada. “To some extent, they’ve expanded the Democratic base of activists beyond the typical folks we’ve usually seen.”
Ronni Council, a Democratic strategist in Las Vegas, said the same has been occurring in Southern Nevada.
“The structure is already in place out here,” Council said. “It’s never gone away.”
The campaign dodged questions about how many paid staff members are in Nevada — a key metric to understanding a candidate’s focus on a particular state.
But other signs are visible: Obama has three campaign offices open in Nevada. A campaign staffer said more than 3,000 volunteers are organizing — making phone calls, handing out pledge cards and building precinct-level teams of supporters.
The campaign has held outreach events with key voting blocs, such as Hispanics, and is cultivating labor support. It has sent top campaign lieutenants to rally Nevada volunteers, and the president has visited both ends of the state since kicking off his re-election campaign.
“The state will play a critical role in the 2012 election,” Obama spokeswoman Ofelia Casillas said. “Today we have volunteers on the ground throughout the state, engaging voters through networks in their communities.”
Meanwhile, Republicans vying to become the GOP nominee have almost entirely dismissed Nevada, skipping the opportunity to begin building an organization that could compete with Obama’s in the state.
Only former Gov. Mitt Romney has anything approximating a thriving campaign organization in Nevada. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and retired businessman Herman Cain are putting some effort into creating an infrastructure of volunteers here.
That means the Republican nominee will be a step behind Obama when it comes to the general election next year.
“At this point, to be perfectly honest, most Republicans feel, and rightfully so, that if we want to beat Barack Obama, we just don’t want to go through another 2008 where the nominee comes late and doesn’t have much infrastructure,” said Zac Moyle, former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party. “In Nevada, the most organized candidate is Mitt Romney, and a lot of Republicans are starting to feel at this point we need to get behind him since he’s the best organized.”
Working in Republicans’ favor is Obama’s dwindling approval rating. Independent voters, who made up a key part of his 2008 coalition, have shifted away from Obama, and many in his base have been disappointed in his inability to achieve more of his agenda.
“From day one, we’ve known that regardless of who the nominee is, it would be difficult to catch up,” Moyle said. “We know that it is his poor polling vs. the tremendous amount of infrastructure he built in 2008.”
Although Democrats acknowledge that the base has been deflated by the reality of governing, Obama has been able to use his campaign infrastructure to capitalize on the vagaries of the Republican primary.
In a campaign characterized by a parade of national debates, each of the candidates has had at least one turn in the less-than-flattering spotlight — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s inability to list the three departments he’d eliminate, Cain’s problems with sexual harassment allegations, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s difficulty with the facts.
That spotlight has been amplified by Obama’s organization, which is seeing some motivation creep back into the base as a result.
“In the past, it took too long to get the message out,” Council said. “But now Cain does one silly thing, I know about it within 60 seconds. The Obama camp is taking advantage of that tool early on.
“The Democrats are using some of that negative media to rally the troops again.”
Moyle acknowledged the Republican primary has given Democrats plenty of cringe-worthy moments as fodder for reinvigorating the troops.
“You watch these debates and it just hurts as a Republican,” he said.