Mitt Romney’s Ohio Troops Plot Strategy To Overtake Santorum From ‘Real World’ House

Mar 5, 2012 12:34pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — They helped Mitt Romney win Florida, so why not Ohio too?

A group of the Romney campaign’s most trusted young political operatives have been working largely under the radar in Ohio since mid-February, putting together a ground game in the state they hope will secure a come-from-behind victory for their candidate in Tuesday’s primary.

The group, which includes Romney’s Ohio state director Molly Donlin, senior advisers Brett Doster and Albert Martinez and spokesman Ryan Williams, among others, have been living together in a house in suburban Columbus that they’ve nicknamed, “Real World Columbus.”

Donlin, Doster and Martinez, as well as another member of the Ohio field staff, Alex Melendez, are all veterans of Romney’s winning Florida operation. Donlin, who also served as Romney’s Florida state director, and her colleagues, worked for six months to lay the groundwork for the former Massachusetts’s governor’s decisive victory in the Sunshine State on Jan. 31. They’ve had less time to put their organization together in Ohio.

But even while Romney was battling back a challenge from Rick Santorum in Michigan, the small group already had a head-start traveling the state to recruit volunteers, set up phone banks, visit local party meetings and Lincoln Day dinners and secure the support of Ohio elected officials and party activists.

They were picked to head up Romney’s effort in Ohio for an important reason: Much like in Florida, which Donlin said she saw “as five states in one,” the Romney campaign has been viewing Ohio through the same lens.

“There are five Ohios,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in an interview with ABC News ahead of Tuesday’s primary.  ”It’s similar to Florida in that you’ve got several distinct regions.”

The campaign has been fielding teams to focus on growing Romney’s support in the central part of the state around Columbus; the northeast, including Cleveland and its suburbs; the northwest region around Toledo; Cincinnati and Dayton in the southwest; and Ohio’s sixth congressional district that hugs the border with Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Williams, who is based in the campaign’s Boston headquarters, has been spearheading press operations in the state. Romney won endorsements from a slew of newspapers, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron Beacon Journal.

Their work on the ground has been boosted by the more than $3.5 million the Romney campaign and a pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, have been spending to reach out to voters through television ads on the Ohio airwaves that play around-the-clock on local stations and cable channels around the state.

Early voting has not been as large a factor in Ohio as it was in Florida, but with the clock counting down to Tuesday, the Romney campaign has switched on its get-out-the-vote operation. In the final 48-hour stretch, campaign staff and volunteers will have made tens of thousands of phone calls before polls close, aides said.

Romney heads into Election Day with a narrow lead in Ohio, the state that holds the second-largest trove of delegates on Super Tuesday. A new Quinnipiac University poll released Monday morning showed Romney with a 34 percent to 31 percent edge over Rick Santorum among likely GOP voters. The former Massachusetts governor erased a polling deficit against Santorum that the former Pennsylvania senator has enjoyed for weeks.

The candidate, himself, has spent more time in Ohio than any of the other Super Tuesday states in the final week-long stretch before the primary here.

The efforts of the members of Romney’s Florida team who have been transplanted to the Buckeye State have not been without some lighter moments. The group has been renting a house, which they found on Craig’s List, in Hilliard on the outskirts of Columbus.

The temporary re-location has been a homecoming of sorts for Donlin, an Ohio native and graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati. The team has slept on couches, held night-time Trivial Pursuit competitions, and even backyard barbeques at the group house that Doster once called the “compound.”

On Sunday night Martinez cooked the group a fajita dinner, which as Doster observed on Twitter, was a kind of last supper before the “sprint” to the finish in Ohio.

“It’s been a fun stay,” Williams said.

 

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