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Extensive voter contact program propelled Romney to victory

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times –

MANCHESTER, N.H. — An important element in Mitt Romney’s impressive win in New Hampshire was a sophisticated and relentless voter contact program that locked in supporters early and turned them out to the polls.

Flush with cash as other rivals limped through the summer and fall, the Romney team poured resources into voter data, deploying a micro-targeting program in New Hampshire and Iowa that found the voters they needed and will become increasingly critical as it moves on to the battlegrounds of South Carolina and Florida.

When Romney announced his presidential bid in June, his Granite State team launched its voter contact program starting with the more than 5,000 people the campaign had identified as solid Romney supporters in 2008. Through personal contacts, campaign officials knew they had retained the support of at least 80 percent — some of whom were folded into Romney’s active corps of volunteers.

As they did in Iowa, the Romney team matched traditional voter lists, showing party preferences and likelihood of participation on Election Day, against reams of new consumer data documenting voters’ interests and preferences — from the number of purchases they make at Williams-Sonoma to their range of financial investments.

Michael Meyers, one of Romney’s micro-targeting gurus and the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based TargetPoint Consulting, noted that because more data is now collected online, the campaign has been able to cull 300 pieces of information about a voter, compared with fewer than two dozen in 2008.

Pairing that data with several hundred thousand paid and volunteer calls, Romney’s operatives knew that his sweet spot was among older, higher-income voters — those with annual household incomes of between $75,000 and $150,000 and upscale interests like gourmet cooking. He was particularly appealing to older women and did best — as they knew from 2008 — among self-identified Republicans.

They also knew that Romney, a father of five sons, held particular appeal to voters whose consumer preferences showed a focus on children and family-centered activities. That knowledge guided the $1.3 million that Romney spent on television ads in New Hampshire, which focused heavily on Romney’s four-decade marriage and family values, as well as his business background.

Most important, the Romney team was able to weed out voters unlikely to support him — allowing them to steer away from socially conservative voters whose affinity toward church or Bible interests, for example, suggested they might be a tougher sell for a Mormon candidate.

In voter calls, live operators narrowed down the top interests of those voters beyond jobs and the economy — following up with mail focused on those interests such as health care, illegal immigration and border security, or the power of labor. From those calls, they also gleaned the second choice of undecided voters.

If a voter’s first and second choices in the Republican field were social conservatives like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, for example, the team shifted those voters to the bottom of the list for a follow-up call and moved on to higher priority targets.

Ultimately Romney operatives expanded their list of 5,000 diehard supporters in New Hampshire to more than 25,000 whom they believed they could rely on to vote in Tuesday’s primary while also turning out friends, relatives and colleagues.

They also paid careful attention to geography — working to boost their tallies in the western half of the state, from the college town of Keene north to the Lebanon-Hanover area around Dartmouth College (areas where Jon Huntsman Jr. focused heavily in his bid to draw in independents).

In the final weeks even though the polls showed Romney maintaining his double-digit lead over the other candidates, the campaign brought him back for repeated visits to the populous areas along the Massachusetts border.

Both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton used extensive micro-targeting to guide their voter registration drives in 2008 — building on techniques championed by Republicans and former White House adviser Karl Rove, first in 2000, then in 2004 to bring new GOP voters into the fold for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

During the 2008 campaign, for example, Clinton won the California primary by targeting women across the state — who ultimately backed her 59 percent to 36 percent — particularly Latinas in Southern California and working women in Northern California.

The practice is a cost-effective way to reach high-value voters, especially in states where heavy retail politicking is impractical.

“The larger the state is the harder it is to do effective voter contact — because there’s more people to contact, identify and recontact,” said Charlie Black, a former strategist for 2008 nominee John McCain who has informally offered advice to Romney from time to time this cycle. “The underdog candidates, even if they got hot and won a primary, don’t have time to develop and install this kind of system in a matter of weeks.”

“It’s expensive. It’s part of having a sophisticated national campaign that’s well-funded,” Black said, “and they’re really the only such campaign out there this time.”

In the end, the Romney team credited its successes to persistence — finding those undecided voters leaning their way and “just inundating them,” said Romney’s New Hampshire director, Jason McBride.

After Tuesday night, he said, there would be little time for rest. He and many on his team were headed straight for Florida.

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