Democratic insiders: Clinton's ground game will sink Trump

'Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. HRC and the Dems have that cornered and are pounding the pavement to get out the vote,' said a Colorado Democrat.
The Clinton campaign has been very engaged in building a ground game," one member of the POLITICO Caucus said.

The presidential race may be tightening, but Democrats are convinced they have an Election Day ace-in-the-hole: Hillary Clinton's ground game. They're confident it will withstand Donald Trump’s late surge in key battleground states.

That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus — a panel of activists, strategists and operatives in 11 swing states, seven of which are seeing significant early- and absentee-voting operations. In those seven states where large numbers of voters are expected to cast their ballots before Election Day — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin — more than three-quarters of Democrats think their party has done a better job turning out key voters thus far.

Democratic insiders are most confident in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. They express more uncertainty in Florida and Iowa.

Republicans, meanwhile, were split across these early voting states. Overall, 40 percent said the GOP was doing the better job, compared with 31 percent who said Democrats were overperforming. Another 29 percent said neither party had a discernible advantage.

(The question wasn’t posed to insiders in Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia — states that don't offer early voting and have more restrictive absentee ballot requirements.)

Insiders in both parties agree that Hillary Clinton has the advantage in Colorado, where every ballot will be cast by mail for the first time in a presidential election.

“For the first time ever, Democrats are outpacing Republicans in ballot returns,” said a Colorado Democrat — who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “In the past, only on Election Day itself did more Democrats vote than Republicans. This year, there has been only one day when the Republicans outpaced the Democrats. Something special is happening here.”

"Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. HRC and the Dems have that cornered and are pounding the pavement to get out the vote," said another Colorado Democrat.

“The Clinton campaign has been very engaged in building a ground game and turnout operation and have a great deal of existing liberal infrastructure in the state to rely upon,” a Colorado Republican agreed. “The Trump campaign, in contrast, has almost no ground game, has engaged in very little traditional campaign organizing, has done little direct mail or canvassing efforts, and seems to think a handful of rallies and last-minute television commercials can take the place of the hard work of actually asking individual voters to vote for him, and the state party has done very little to fill the void.”

But that Republican insisted that recent events in the race — in particular FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress last week announcing that the bureau was investigating recently discovered Clinton emails — could help Trump overtake Clinton at the end. “There is a sliver of hope for Trump in that the mix of voters who have already voted — higher propensity Democrats versus mid- and low-propensity Republicans — means that there are a lot of traditional, stalwart Republican and independent voters still sitting on ballots that could come home in the final week, especially in light of the renewed attention on the FBI probe that might just provide that little bit of motivation needed to turn in a ballot and vote against Hillary,” the Republican said.

Florida insiders in both parties say that, generally, Democrats and Republicans have fought to a draw thus far in early voting. One Florida Democrat conceded that Republicans have been stronger than expected.

“My side did underestimate the GOP's operation,” the Democrat said.

Among Republicans, the verdict was mixed.

“I think the [Clinton] effort is just slightly ahead of the built-in party apparatus Trump has working for him,” said a Florida Republican. “However, Trump did begin hiring today for field — a little too late, of course — but at least he realizes what he is lacking.”

“Dems have finally stepped up their game on mail ballots, and they've always owned [in-person] early voting,” another Florida Republican added. “The battle will be Election Day, and in Florida it has gotten very active — to the point where consultants are showing up on the ground to knock on doors.”

Democrats are less bullish in Iowa, where Trump leads in the polls and Republicans are confident.

“Democrats have been slightly behind in regards to their rate of ballots turned in relative to 2012,” said a Democrat there. “But they have some margin on those figures to still win. I am also confident that the ballots Democrats are pushing are targeted to low-probability voters, as opposed to in 2014 when we spent too much time and money trying to get [regular voters] to vote.”

“Republicans have narrowed the traditional Democratic advantage on early votes,” a Republican said. “Given that Republicans turn out in higher propensity on Election Day, the Dems are looking at a state which will turn from purple to red in 2016. They're out of gas, and Republicans have a head of steam.”

But Democrats are claiming an advantage in Nevada.

“Democrats are tracking closely with 2012 at this point in early and absentee votes,” said an insider there. “In fact, Democrats are overperforming in Washoe County, which is the state's only swing county and second-largest population center. Democratic [get-out-the-vote] efforts are being felt from the top of the ticket down to the contested state legislative races that could end up turning the state Legislature blue.”

Republicans aren’t conceding the state, however.

“Democrats are slightly ahead of Republicans as a percentage of registered voters, but that is very typical for Nevada elections,” one Republican said. “More Dems than Republicans vote early, while Republicans tend to prefer voting on Election Day. Also, in Nevada, we have a large percentage of independents and nonpartisan voters, which makes the raw number of Democrats and Republicans voting less predictive of the final results.”

Some Democrats crowed about their ground game in North Carolina, with one saying, “Democrats have a plan and are executing it. Republicans have no plan and frankly, no clue.”

But another Democrat expressed caution.

“Democrats did better than 2012 in absentee ballots, but the GOP has kept pace with Dems in early voting and in 2012, the Dems were way out in front with early votes,” the Democrat said. “There are more independents now than in 2012, so it’s a challenge to know which way they are leaning.”

Insiders were at odds, meanwhile, in Ohio.

“Over a million early votes have been cast in Ohio, up from 2012 at this time. Based on primary election voter identification, it appears more Democrats have voted early or absentee by mail,” said a Democrat there.

But Republicans remain confident. Said one: “Democrats have technically turned out more, but not to the level they need. They'll lose.”

And in Wisconsin, one Democrat said, “It's not even close. Both Clinton and [former Sen. Russ] Feingold have 30-point leads in early voting.”

But a Republican cautioned: “Both are doing a good job but it is hard to determine if party regulars are just voting early, or if there are new voters to the polls. The Wisconsin GOP has a better infrastructure statewide.”

Republicans see FBI Director James Comey's letter as a game-changer.

The polls were trending toward Trump even before Comey’s letter to Congress last week, but nearly two-thirds of GOP insiders across all 11 battleground states said the letter fundamentally altered the trajectory of the race.

“There are a handful of words that can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a race,” said a New Hampshire Republican. “These include words and phrases like indictment, FBI investigation and grand jury. These are popping with just barely enough time to make a difference in the race, even enough time for ad-makers to change out closing commercials.”

“That is not how to end a campaign,” a Virginia Republican added. “She wins when Trump is the issue. She loses when she is the issue.”

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