PHILADELPHIA — A few hours before President Barack Obama on Wednesday forcefully argued for Hillary Clinton to follow him in the White House in his Democratic National Convention speech, the Clinton campaign emphasized the only number that counts: 270.
It takes 270 electoral college votes to win the White House. Every other number – polls, fundraising, staff on the ground, Twitter followers or Facebook likes – for the Clinton campaign, as it was for Obama’s two campaigns, is merely information to be used to force an outcome – not predict it.
In 2016 – as in 2012 and 2008 and 2004 and 2000 – the presidential battle boils down to a handful of swing battleground states: Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin and, of course, Florida.
“What I have not seen from Donald Trump yet in these states is a comprehensive ground game,” said Marlon Marshall, the Clinton campaign Director of State Campaigns and Political Engagement at a briefing.
Obama won all the key battleground states in 2008 and 2012. He lost Indiana in 2012 after a 2008 victory, perhaps a contributing factor for Trump picking Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.
In 2008, Obama became president with 365 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 173. In 2012, Obama’s edge was reduced a bit; securing a second term with 332 electoral votes to 206 for Mitt Romney.
Marshall was also a top staffer in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, a data driven operation devoted to the analytics that Trump has said is a waste of time. With a trim organization – and spending relatively little – Trump won the GOP nomination.
But the path to 270 is something else.
“The other candidate doesn’t believe in campaign or data organizing,” said David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, who helped steer Obama’s 2012 re-election from a perch in the White House.
RELATED: Obama: Clinton a cool, capable confidante who ‘never, ever quits’ Clinton camp: Trump urging Russian ‘espionage’ in email flap Duckworth: Kirk running from record as Republican Brown: White House not only race on some Chicago delegates’ radar Conventional wisdom: What to watch for Thursday
Plouffe is skeptical that Trump can shrug off building a robust traditional campaign – one that he is very late in putting together. Marshall said that in the past days, Clinton installed her 50th state director, in Alaska.
“Some people believe we’re in a ‘black swan’ moment and none of that will matter, and they’ll win,” Plouffe said.
Plouffe, now a top advisor to Uber, painted a picture of a Clinton campaign as consumed with data as much as Obama’s – not a surprise since many of the staffers worked in both.
“Every decision the Clinton campaign makes is a super-sophisticated decision,” Plouffe said, whether “allocation of time, resources, where Barack Obama is going to go” or Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate.
The stunning and surprising Trump candidacy means more “volatility” that Obama had to deal with in gaming out McCain and Romney.
“Our ’08 race, you know, was a thing of beauty. 2012 was a much grittier deal,” Plouffe said.
Obama and George W. Bush secured two terms each because they attracted moderates.
“The person who wins the moderate vote wins the presidency,” said Plouffe.
Here’s Plouffe big prediction.
Trump wins if four stars align:
- Historically bad Democratic turnout.
- Historically good Republican turnout.
- Trump overperforming Ronald Reagan in some rural areas
- Clinton underperforming in suburban areas.
Said Plouffe, whose focus is only on 270, “I don’t see any of those things happening.”