How Bernie Sanders' Ground Game Overwhelmed the Clinton Machine in NH

PHOTO: Bernie Sanders smiles as he speaks at his primary night rally, Feb. 9, 2016, in Concord, N.H.PlayJ. David Ake/AP Photo
WATCH Bernie Sanders Secures Victory Over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire

As they readied for a double-digit shellacking in New Hampshire Tuesday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff continued to point to a simple reason for Bernie Sanders’ success: his proximity.

The senator from Vermont is a well-known commodity in the Granite State and he was embraced as a front-runner early in the state. The lead he established in August ballooned to a 20-point advantage on primary night, thanks to New Englanders willing to see a front-runner where the rest of the country still sees a socialist.

At least, that’s the argument.

The numbers, though, tell a different story, as Sanders put into place an aggressive ground operation that swept through the state.

While the Clinton camp has not released employee counts, the Sanders campaign eventually deployed 108 paid staffers to New Hampshire. It established 18 field offices to Clinton’s 11, along with another 37 “Get Out the Vote” centers. (Clinton had eight.)

Sanders also seems to have used his impressive fundraising machine to eclipse Clinton in ad spending. Asked by ABC News how much money the Clinton campaign had spent on advertisements in the state, Clinton's New Hampshire spokesperson Julie McClain simply pointed to a Politico article showing Sanders totaling $8.5 million compared with Clinton’s $7.6 million. The article also detailed an overwhelming effort in the final three weeks of the race, with Sanders tripling Clinton’s spending on TV ads.

Karthik Ganapathy, Sanders’ communications director in the state, said the dollar amounts were accurate.

Sanders also hired a veteran Democratic operative to oversee his ground game. Julia Barnes served on Joe Biden’s New Hampshire staff in 2008, and as state field director for Organizing for America, she laid the groundwork for Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012. She became the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party before heading over to the Sanders camp last year.

In the fall, when there was a feeling among pundits that Sanders’ momentum might have plateaued, Barnes remained steadfast and confident. “That is not what we are seeing on the ground,” she told ABC News ahead of the New Hampshire Party’s Jefferson Jackson dinner last November. She said the campaign was signing up new volunteers every day.

Still, this week, Barnes, like her boss, remained cautious ahead of the voting. “We’re trying very hard not to take anything for granted,” she told ABC News on Monday.

As for the “neighboring state” argument, Sanders simply dismissed the notion.

“If you started at the beginning of this campaign,” he said at a Concord press conference last week, “and did a poll about how many people in New Hampshire knew Hillary Clinton, and how many people knew Bernie Sanders…I suspect more people would have known Hillary Clinton.”

He did concede that he was “fairly well-known in the state.”

Now, Sanders will try to prove his New Hampshire win wasn’t a fluke. He still faces considerable deficits in other states, especially the “first-in-the-south” primary of South Carolina. But his campaign insists that voters will see Tuesday’s win as a reason to give him a second look – and continue his improbable campaign.

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