Romney's top pollster, Neil Newhouse, said this week that independents will make the difference. That squares with the assignment handed to Romney volunteer Sarah Partin. As early voting began, the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg senior was in Tierra Verde, an upper middle class, GOP-leaning enclave of Pinellas County, to knock on the doors of undeclared voters.
"It's my job to figure out whether we can count on them," she said. "Mostly, I explain personally what makes me support Romney. We just have to be as nice as possible."
In most states, the Obama camp refuses to disclose little more than the number of field offices. For the record, Obama has 106 in Florida to Romney's 49; in most battlegrounds, Obama's 2008 offices never closed.
Top Obama strategist David Plouffe said in his memoir of the 2008 election that Obama's path to victory was expanding the electorate using person-to-person outreach that began long before typical "get-out-the-vote" efforts. His paid staffers this year point to the job titles of people like Sprung and Brown as the key distinction from Romney's organization.
"When I knock on doors, I'm in my own neighborhood," Sprung said. "I hear their stories, their concerns. I answer questions." Noting that her son is a diabetic who cannot be denied insurance under Obama's Affordable Care Act, she added: "I tell them my story, and why I'm with the president."
However large the operation, it's an inexact exercise, beyond just the inaccurate numbers on phone lists. Witness Sue Smith, a registered Republican in Pinellas County, Fla., who says she is an undecided but regular voter: "I haven't heard from either campaign."
Tampa resident Anthony Arenas said he's a registered Democrat who fielded multiple calls and visits from the Obama campaign. At an early voting site, he emerged from his car and yelled: "Is this where I vote for Mitt Romney?"
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