Top officials from President Barack Obama's reelection campaign provided assurances on Thursday to Democrats nervous about provisions limiting ballot access that have passed in critical swing states. In the process, they floated the idea that Republicans could be just as affected by some of the controversial measures, which critics have deemed craven efforts at voter suppression.
In a briefing with more than 40 reporters at a hotel in Washington, these officials explained that they had a "much bigger operation than ever before" devoted to executing legal challenges to ballot access measures.
Should those challenges fail, however, the campaign is confident that its on-the-ground operations will allow it to buffer against -- if not overcome -- the hit it could take at the polls.
"I think that all these challenges are why you run a field operation and why, in a battleground state like Ohio, where we have four times as many offices as [the Mitt Romney campaign does] and many times more staffers, we have the advantage to do it," said one senior staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak frankly about campaign strategy. "I know everyone thinks it is just our side that suffers from these things, from ballot access challenges. But their senior voters are going to have challenges too. Both sides are going to have to adapt to this. And I think that is a place where we have an advantage on the ground."
Democrats have been fretting for months that the president's reelection campaign could be tripped up by a series of voting laws crafted in various states with Republican governors. In Ohio, the Obama campaign has moved to overturn a ban on early voting in the three-day window before the election that critics say will disenfranchise voters. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has attempted to shorten the early voting period from 12 days to eight. And in Pennsylvania, legal challenges have been lobbed against a new law that requires voters to show a valid ID before voting.
A Pennsylvania judge recently declined to issue an injunction against the law, prompting renewed concerns that the estimated 700,000-plus registered voters in the state without a government-issued ID would be unable to vote. Already a top Republican lawmaker has publicly stated that the law would help Romney win Pennsylvania in November.
"I take him at his word -- the Speaker of the Pennsylvania state House -- when he said that the changes could make it, he believes, to have Mitt Romney win that state," the top Obama official said.
The Obama campaign has been working with voters in Pennsylvania to make sure that they know about the voter ID requirement and to help them procure the proper identification. The campaign also takes solace in what it says is a registration advantage of more than one million voters that it continues to enjoy in the state.
The ground game, however, remains the key. According to the campaign officials, the president's team has collected 147 percent more voter registration forms, made 234 percent more phone calls and knocks on doors, and had 171 percent more voter "conversations" than it had at this point in 2008.
The effort has helped the campaign weather a recent disadvantage in spending on television advertising. According to the campaign officials, over the past two months, the Romney campaign and allied GOP groups have spent $278 million on media buys, compared to the $218 million spent by Obama and allied Democratic groups. That margin is expected to widen in the subsequent months, though the officials insisted that they had the same financial flexibility now that they enjoyed four years prior.
The campaign believes that it will match the 67 percent of the Hispanic vote that they got in 2008. And while the officials conceded that enthusiasm among the group wasn't as high as it could be, they pointed out that "the base has grown," referring to increasing numbers of eligible Latino voters. "We are drawing on a larger base to begin with," said an Obama aide, "which is advantageous, particularly in states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida."
The president also enjoys higher levels of support among female voters than Romney, a gap aides predicted would only grow given the controversy surrounding Rep. Todd Akin, (R-Mo.), who said Sunday that victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant. "There is no doubt [the gender gap] is real and I don’t think there is anything that's happened in the past week that .. has diminished that," an aide said.
"I think Hurricane Todd has already borne down on Tampa and the damage has been done," another aide said, referencing reports that a hurricane will interrupt the Republican National Convention.
Obama's polling numbers, the aides noted, have remained very stable despite all the money that has been spent against him. And while they expect Romney to get a bump from his upcoming convention, they predicted that such a bump would be neutralized after the Democrats hold their own convention the following week. "We have an almost instant ability to interdict whatever movement there is with our own and sort of spontaneous rebuttals to whatever [goes on there]," said one of the aides.
Reporters raised objections to the briefing taking place on condition of anonymity. Obama aides argued in response that they were operating under the same rules that the Romney campaign used in its briefings with reporters, and insisted that they were offering "more leg" with respect to insight into campaign operations.