NASHUA — For months, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has boasted that its infrastructure in New Hampshire is miles ahead of Donald Trump’s, with on-the-ground staff and coordination that dwarf his passionate base.
Well, Clinton’s people are right.
Just a few weeks before Election Day, the Globe made unannounced stops at six campaign offices in the swing state to get a sense of the level of activity on a typical weekday. What we found reinforces what politically plugged-in sources in New Hampshire have been saying for months: Clinton has a significantly more advanced campaign infrastructure than Trump.
In Nashua, considered by local political experts to be the most critical city in the most critical swing state in New England, the campaigns have set up shop at different ends of Main Street.
On Oct. 19, the Republican office was, according to a Globe count, manned by four volunteers, led by Harry Loomos, a Lynnfield, Mass., resident who drives up every weekday. Down the street, a former mattress store serves as office space for Democrats. The Globe counted at least 15 people in the office that day — not including a handful of Clinton volunteers.
At the statewide Trump campaign headquarters in Manchester, four staffers worked out of a large, quiet office with a fish tank. Across town, at the Clinton headquarters, the office was comparatively buzzing: About 20 staff members were working there, not counting paid workers from allied organizations such as the local chapter of the Sierra Club.
By late afternoon, there were just two Clinton staffers manning the office in Salem, a Republican stronghold. Later, six volunteers showed up at the Republican office looking for directions on how to go door-to-door for the Republican ticket. A staffer aided them with lists and directions to targeted neighborhoods.
Around the state, aggregate staff counts given by the campaigns revealed a more disparate picture.
Three weeks before Election Day, Democrats have 27 offices in New Hampshire staffed by more than 100 staffers dedicated to field work, according to Clinton’s state spokeswoman, Julie McClain. This figure, she said, does not include staff working on campaigns for other candidates, although it does include those with the Democratic National Committee, which coordinates with Clinton’s team.
The Trump campaign has outsourced its New Hampshire field operation to the Republican National Committee. RNC spokeswoman Johanna Pershing said the campaign has 10 offices in the state with 50 paid staff, though the Associated Press has reported that some of them work part time.
Still, a Trump campaign adviser said the campaign has the largest field organization of any Republican who has run for president in New Hampshire.
“Our volunteers are energized and motivated for change. As a result of this energy, we’ve knocked on 75 percent more doors than we had at this point in 2012 and have more staff on the ground than previous GOP efforts in presidential years,” said Mike Biundo, a New Hampshire-based senior adviser to the Trump campaign. “Our team is working seven days a week to elect Republicans up and down the ballot.”
But in reality, there’s not a lot of cohesion among the candidates on New Hampshire’s GOP ticket. Senator Kelly Ayotte has publicly rebuked Trump and said she will write-in the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee, Governor Mike Pence, instead. What’s more, Ayotte and the Republican nominee for governor, Chris Sununu, just last year called for another member of the ticket, Representative Frank Guinta, to resign from office.
In any case, it’s difficult to measure the exact impact of a campaign’s ground game.
Academic studies have produced varied results. One study showed it could boost a campaign as much as 7 percent in turnout. Another concluded that Mitt Romney’s campaign, which was largely mocked for its clunky and overhyped get-out-the-vote program, had an impact roughly equal to President Obama’s much more comprehensive and technologically advanced ground game.
Most political professionals and academics agree that a ground game can make the difference between winning and losing a close race. If there's a large gap — such as Clinton’s double-digit lead over Trump in recent New Hampshire polls — it’s more difficult to determine a ground game’s exact impact.
But at least in New Hampshire, many voters believe this type of retail campaigning still matters. While the presidential race and the local US Senate contest set records for campaign spending in the state, the Nashua barber who rents space next to the Republican headquarters says his customers still want to have contact with the campaigns.
“There are many things that have changed over the years, but the conversation between people and campaigns in this state is not one of them,” said Robert Roberge, who has been cutting hair in the same location for 50 years. “No matter what is said on television, people want to talk to others about what they have seen. I am sure that a knock on the door helps.”