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Romney's Turnout Strategy Puts The Ball In Obama's Court

Why was the Romney campaign talking about God's place in the Pledge of Allegiance, attending NASCAR events, endorsing Steve King, and whatever else? According to three Romney advisors cited by BuzzFeed, Boston has apparently calculated that there aren’t enough undecided voters and that it’s time to turnout the base. This represents a stark reversal from the Romney campaign’s initial view that they needed to relentlessly hammer the economy to appeal to undecided voters, under the assumption that they would ultimately flock to the Republican nominee. And, if Romney has indeed switched to a turnout-oriented messaging strategy, it's a tough spot for the Republican nominee.

Would a strong Republican turnout help Romney? Absolutely. But if the Romney campaign isn’t convinced they’ll win an outsized share of undecided voters, then Obama’s route to victory starts to look pretty good. Whether you look at the universe of registered voters in terms of Party-ID, racial demographics, or Obama’s standing, it’s more than apparent that strong GOP turnout alone is insufficient for Romney to win the election. In post-convention polls, Obama holds nearly 41 percent of the white vote, enough to win reelection if minorities again represent 26 percent of the electorate. Among registered voters, Obama leads by nearly 7 points with 50 percent of the vote. And Democrats routinely outnumber Republicans by half a dozen points, or even more, in polls of registered voters.

So Romney can’t win by simply turning out Republicans and calling it a day. Romney would need to couple strong Republican turnout with a relatively weak Democratic turnout, or he would need a strong showing among undecided voters to close the gap. Realistically, the Romney campaign is going to try and accomplish both tasks by talking about base issues on the stump and airing advertisements aimed at persuading undecided voters that the president has failed and therefore that he must be replaced by the Republican nominee.  Three Romney strategists talking about a base turnout strategy suggests that Boston is not banking on undecided voters to resoundingly break their way, at least not to an extent that would hand them a victory without a strong base turnout.

But the alternative to a resounding performance among undecided voters is Romney crossing his fingers and hoping that Obama can’t produce a strong turnout of his own, since Boston couldn’t match a hypothetically large Democratic turnout and they can't do much to interfere with Obama’s turnout effort. And it's not like the Obama campaign hasn't heavily invested in the ground game, either. If Obama’s expensive ground operation can produce a strong Democratic turnout, that’s probably enough to ensure an Obama victory given his big lead among registered voters and proximity to 49 percent among those already deemed likely to participate. So if the Buzzfeed article is right, the race is potentially out of Romney’s hands. He's crossing his fingers hoping that Obama can't generate big turnout.