From the moment the presidential race started taking shape, it was clear that along with being a contest between two candidates, the election would also be a contest between two different approaches to winning. Team Romney and its super PAC allies signaled that they would raise a ton of money to run a traditional campaign heavy on television advertising. Team Obama chose to build an elaborate ground operation — a big advantage in 2008 — that would rely heavily on technology to register and turn out the vote.
While the two campaigns began with different outlooks on the race — Romney framing it as a referendum on the president, Obama as a choice between the two candidates — this divergence was also driven by necessity. Romney had to spend his time and money securing the GOP nomination and lacked the resources to develop the kind of turnout operation that could match his opponent’s. Obama knew he was saddled with a weak recovery and a more formidable foe than last time, and would have to grind out an ugly victory unlikely to inspire as many voters. He’d have to find other ways of getting them to the polls.