College students on the NAACP’s ‘Vote Hard’ bus tour encourage people to vote in the George Washington Carver Homes housing project in Selma, Ala.

WASHINGTON — The national and state Democratic parties are spending far more heavily than their Republican counterparts on field operations, after years of ceding the advantage in ground-level organizing to the Republican voter-turnout machine.

Finance records show Democrats have hired five to 10 times more paid field staff in swing states than the Republicans.

Democrats have set up 770 offices nationwide, including in some of the most Republican areas of traditionally “red” states — like one in Goshen, Ind., a manufacturing town with a population of about 30,000. It is the seat of Elkhart County, which voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 by more than 40 percentage points. By comparison, Republicans have about 370 offices nationwide.

The focus on the ground-game is a change from past election cycles, when the Democratic party’s prime objective was getting as many broadcast ads on the air as possible. In recent campaigns, Democrats outsourced their ground organization to outside groups, such as labor unions and liberal activists.

The year’s change is made possible by Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s historic fundraising. His campaign is doing its own advertising, taking that pricey burden off the parties. Campaign-finance data show the Democratic Party has essentially ceded television advertising to Sen. Obama’s campaign. In 2004, the Democratic Party spent nearly $120 million on advertising in support of then-nominee John Kerry, compared to only $500,000 this fall.

And the Obama campaign also is pouring money into state-party budgets. The senator’s presidential campaign along with the Democratic National Committee have put at least $112 million into state parties in recent months, a review of campaign-finance filings shows. They have poured $6 million into both North Carolina and Virginia and even sent $1.8 million into Montana — nearly two dollars for every resident of that state.

We really feel that this election is going to come down to our ground organization and what happens in the final days of the campaign,” said Jen O’Malley, the Obama campaign’s battleground-states director.

Four years ago, the party’s get-out-the-vote effort was largely run by an independent group named America Coming Together, or ACT, which was financed with $164 million from rich liberals but legally prevented from coordinating with their candidate. The group was criticized by some Democrats for not reaching deep enough into the outer suburbs and rural areas, where Republicans were victorious. ACT was also legally restricted when it came to mentioning candidates, and was fined $775,000 after allegedly attacking President Bush in its voter drives.

Republicans say their volunteer-based turnout machinery from 2004 is intact and more than twice as productive as last cycle in making phone calls and house calls. “This operation is working on all eight cylinders,” said Rich Beeson, the political director of the Republican National Committee and a veteran of the 2004 effort. “It’s doing what it was designed to do.” The party has been honing the same model for eight years, developing veteran volunteers who often work full-time without pay.

Republican spending on field staff has grown just slightly since 2004, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis covering reports from the presidential campaigns, as well as national and state parties. The GOP spent an estimated $22 million on personnel from June 1 to Oct. 15, compared to $19 million over the same period in 2004.

Democrats have increased their staff expenditures from $30 million to $56 million — and they employed an estimated 4,500 workers making more than $1,500 a month as of mid-October, the latest information available. Sen. McCain and the Republicans had about 1,100 at that point.

The expansion was made possible by Sen. Obama’s decision to decline public financing for his campaign, freeing himself from its spending caps. Instead he has relied on the legions of supporters who have already contributed over $600 million.

Sen. McCain is limited to spending the $84.1 million he accepted from the government after his September nomination. Sen. Obama is on track to spend more on television advertising than any candidate in history, likely spending more than $100 million on ads in October alone.

Source: WSJ

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