Why Romney was caught by surprise by the election result
Even on the morning of the election, Romney’s senior advisers weren’t close to hedging. They said he was going to win “decisively.” It seemed like spin, but the Boston Globe reports that a fireworks display was already ordered for the victory. Romney and Ryan thought they were going to win, say aides. “We were optimistic. More than just cautiously optimistic,” says one campaign staffer. When Romney lost, “it was like a death in the family.”
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. “We thought the only way to win was doing well with independents and we were kicking ass with independents,” says a top aide. One senior adviser bet me that if Obama won Ohio, he would donate $1,000 per point to my favorite charity. (That would be a $10,000 hit since Romney lost Ohio but won independents by 10 points). In the end, Romney won independents nationally by five points—and it didn’t matter one bit…
In the final 10 days of the race, a split started to emerge in the two campaigns. 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. On Election Day, the whole Romney ground-game flopped apart. ORCA, the much touted- computer system for tracking voters on Election Day, collapsed. It was supposed to be a high-tech approach to poll-watching, a system by which campaign workers would be able to track who voted. Those who had not yet voted could therefore be identified and then have volunteers tasked to finding them and getting them to the polls. ORCA was supposed to streamline the process, but it was never stress-tested. Field operatives never saw a beta version. They asked to see it, but were told it would be ready on Election Day. When they rolled it out Tuesday, it was a mess. People couldn’t log on and when they did, the fields that were supposed to be full of data were empty. “I saw a zero and I knew I wasn’t supposed to be seeing a zero,” said one campaign worker. A war room had been set up in the Boston Garden to monitor ORCA’s results, but in the end Romney and Ryan had to watch CNN to find out how their campaign was doing. In the end, the numbers guy was deprived of his numbers in more ways than one.