09/30/2012 01:41 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2012

Jim Messina, Obama Campaign Manager, Says Even If Romney Surges, 'We're Going To Be OK'

CHICAGO – "Let me show you what kind of advantage we have," said Jim Messina, springing out of a chair in his downtown office.

Messina, the 42-year old campaign manager for President Barack Obama's reelection effort, took a thick three-ring binder off his desk, plopped it down, and opened it to the page comparing the number of field offices for the Obama campaign in swing states to those for Republican nominee Mitt Romney's campaign.

The chart, which he said he included in a slide show presentation to Senate Democrats earlier this month, showed the Obama campaign with 123 field offices in Ohio to the Romney campaign's 40, and a 59 to 15 edge in Colorado.

"I think that's eventually going to matter," Messina said, referring to the chart. "We're just going to have the availability to do two things. [The Romney campaign is] going to turn their vote out. And I think they're going to do a better job than [Sen. John] McCain did turning their vote out. But I think we have the ability to both persuade the undecideds, because of our huge footprint and our experience, and turn out our vote."

Messina pointed to the Democrats' head start on Republicans in swing states like Iowa, where early voting began last Thursday and where voters can cast ballots in person or by mail for the 40 days preceding election day on Nov. 6. Democrats have a huge advantage so far in Iowa, but Republicans say their strategy is to focus resources first on the undecided voters and then to turn out their most reliable voters closer to election day. Democrats are doing the opposite, essentially frontloading the process with their best supporters.

Nonetheless, Romney has had several weeks of bad press and poll numbers, and the Obama campaign has benefited over the past few days in early voting states from a new round of stories about its edge in absentee ballot requests.

It's hard to know, however, how significant it was that on the first day of early voting in Iowa, the Obama campaign sent its most dedicated volunteers and supporters to the polls in all of the state's 99 counties for a show of strength. Over 200 people showed up at the early voting site in Des Moines, almost all of them Obama supporters.

Republicans scoffed.

"They did it for PR purposes," said one state level operative for the Romney campaign who asked not to be identified.

Messina, who along with the rest of the Obama campaign is bracing himself for an almost inevitable surge in the polls for Romney, took this as evidence of a ground advantage.

"Enthusiasm matters. And our people are more enthusiastic than their people," he told The Huffington Post. "Does [a volunteer] go out and make two more phone calls at the end of the day? Does he call his cousin he doesn't like and say, 'Hey, you've got to vote for Obama?' Does he do all those little things to get us there?"

"And I think that's why we're going to be OK," Messina said.

The Romney campaign wasn't buying Messina's spin.

"They mistake action for progress," said Rich Beeson, the Romney campaign's political director, in an email. "In every target state they have more staff and offices than we do, yet in every target state we are matching or exceeding them on voter contacts."

"We aren't trying to lower the nation's unemployment rate by hiring field staff," Beeson said. "We choose to work smarter."

Messina accused the Romney campaign of relying too much on outside groups.

"Karl Rove taught the Democrats in '04 you can't outsource your field, which is exactly what Romney's trying to do to [Americans for Prosperity] and to the other groups," he said.

Beeson shot back: "And I say we are doing all of ours with volunteers and he is outsourcing to the unions."

As far as Romney's ground game goes, Republicans say they are hitting more doors and making more voter contacts than they ever have before.

But Messina's larger argument is that the Obama campaign has a level of buy-in from its core volunteers that will help it maximize its advantage during early voting and run a full-scale turnout campaign for the last six weeks.

He recalled meeting a campaign worker in Ohio, who approached him to tell a story.

"She says, 'I know everyone in my neighborhood. I know the new people who just moved in. I know the people who are independent, I know the people who are Democrats but might not vote, I know the people who are going to decide the very last weekend and I know how to talk to them. My opposition from the Romney campaign is a paid staffer who just got here from out of state and has been here a month,'" Messina said. "And she looked at me and said, 'Who do you think is going to do better over the last 60 days?'"

Messina has a point. But ultimately, any edge the Obama campaign may have on grassroots organization only matters if the race is close and the president is leading Romney or is just behind him. Obama has opened up a lead over Romney in the past month.

Romney is hoping to make up ground in the debates, the first of which is this Wednesday in Denver. But Messina downplayed the notion that either candidate will gain or lose significant ground in the debates.

"We think that if we come out of the debate having people understand the very clear choice and the differences between us wanting to go forward and them wanting to go back to the same failed policies of the past ... that's our goal," he said.

"I don't think there's knockout punches and all that. I don't believe in that."



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