The biggest deficit Republicans face isn't the skills of their operatives or the absence of newfangled campaign technology. It's their numbers: The GOP simply doesn't have enough people—or a wide-enough variety of them. And even those men and women who are working are often fitted into the wrong kind of job.
A December study by the progressive political firm New Organizing Institute found a wide chasm between the number of staffers on Democratic versus Republican campaigns—nationally, the ratio was close to 3-to-1 in favor of Democrats. In swing-state Nevada, where Republicans had hoped the housing bust and vibrant Mormon community would lift Mitt Romney to victory, the totals were even more lopsided: 498 Democrats worked the state, to only 20 Republicans.
Worse, according to some Republicans, those who are working aren't in the right positions. "Anyone who has hung around GOP campaigns can tell you that this sounds totally intuitively right," Ruffini wrote in a blog post assessing the data. "Republicans concentrate their talent on the most traditional aspects of campaigning, while Democrats tend to blaze new ground in areas like data analytics, and focus more on [the] field."
Fieldwork might sound mundane, but it's where many smart campaigns are investing the most money. There's no better example than Obama's last campaign, which emphasized voter-to-voter contact among its army of volunteers and low-level employees. The ground game was the largest in presidential history.
To Ruffini and other Republicans, this misallocation tugs at a related and equally daunting challenge. GOP leaders have hemmed and hawed about the party's digital and technology gap since losing to Obama's technologically superior effort in 2012. They've invested millions of dollars, especially at the Republican National Committee, to remake their voter-outreach and political-analytics efforts. But as the NOI data show, money's not the big problem. It's people. And the GOP can't train, or retrain, a generation of operatives overnight.