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GOP Having Trouble Getting Its Presidential Ground Game Going

Sara Marie Brenner

An Associated Press review of Republican operations in presidential battleground states finds there are fewer employees than the national party had planned. Republican Donald Trump is leaning on the party to conduct most of his voter outreach. Local officials are anxiously awaiting reinforcements to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Republican National Committee has achieved record levels of fundraising over the past few years and put together a more robust ground game than it had in 2012. But Ohio Republicans thought they were going to see 220 paid staffers by May. Currently there are about 50. More from Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles.

It’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning in Delaware County, in many years the most Republican county in the state. It’s the kind of day when volunteers might not mind taking a walk and knocking on doors. Yet only a handful of people gathered at the coffee shop where Sara Marie Brenner, a supporter of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, was holding a meeting to train community volunteers. She says she realizes Trump doesn’t have the established ground game of his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.


“Well I think when you have been in politics since the 90’s, it is hard to beat that ground game. But certainly from that standpoint, he hasn’t spent nearly the amount of money that she has. But it’s such a different campaign cycle that I don’t think we are going to know until we know. (chuckles) Because it’s just so different. Do I wish that there was a stronger ground game? Absolutely. But I see we are making headway and we are making strides. But I also just have to wonder if it’s going to matter.”


And that last point is noteworthy since Trump has not relied on traditional campaign strategies to win at the ballot box. His message on key issues such as immigration, trade and foreign relations stands out from the other 16 candidates who once opposed him in the primary season. And as a wealthy and well known real estate magnate and reality TV star, Trump hasn’t needed the millions of dollars to get that message out. Still, with all of that said, Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper thinks the ground game is key to winning.


“Your ability to organize voters on the ground is the key to winning. It’s one reason Obama won here in ’08 and ’12. And so we as a party got to work on doing this organizing long ago, long before we even knew who the candidate would be. And since it’s become Hillary Clinton, we’ve only built on that. We feel very good about a ground game with a whole lot of staff. We think we have more staff in Ohio than Donald Trump has in the entire country in terms of on the field organization. We have thousands and thousands of activists already enlisted.”


More than 13 million voters nationwide supported Trump in the primary, picking him from the crowded field. And anecdotal evidence shows he might be drawing some Democrats with his criticism of trade policies some say have caused the loss of blue collar manufacturing jobs. After all, the Republican voting rolls in Mahoning County, a traditionally Democratic area, swelled by 21,000 in the March primary.


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