NEW YORK — Elections in Ohio are trench warfare, fought by waves of volunteers swarming across hundreds of thousands of front porches to rap on doors.
Candidates open field offices by the dozen and send in hundreds of paid staff members, while a voter in a politically predictable state like New York or Alabama never receives so much as a robocall.
The presidential organizing model has trickled down to officeholders in Ohio, an essential swing state, where no one has built a better voter mobilization team than the twice-elected governor, John R. Kasich.
But after a sulfurous feud between Kasich and Donald Trump, which boiled over in July at the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland, almost none of the governor’s seasoned political staff members are helping Trump in his close Ohio battle with Hillary Clinton.
A procession of senior political aides to Kasich spurned overtures to work for the Trump campaign.
The degree to which that will weaken Trump’s prospects in Ohio, where both candidates campaigned Monday, is hard to precisely measure. But what is certain is that in Ohio, where Clinton holds one of her narrowest polling leads in any battleground state, Trump cannot afford a ground game that underperforms, as it did in earlier primary contests.
“Kasich had the best ground game for the last eight years in Ohio,” said Michael Hartley, a Republican consultant in Columbus. “If you want to win Ohio, you need the Kasich team.”
Hartley opened Ohio field offices for Kasich ahead of his win in the state’s presidential primary. But he did not want to work for Trump, citing loyalty as a member of Kasich’s team.
“You’re a family, and if somebody attacks your family and says awful things about your family, are you inclined to help that person?” he asked, alluding to Trump. “The answer is no. To be honest, the Trump people did this to themselves.”
Kasich is seen as already laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential race. Members of his close-knit team said the governor never ordered them not to work for Trump.
At least one Kasich ally, Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, who criticized Trump during the convention, is now supportive of the nominee. “You play the hand you’re dealt and go out and do the best you can,” he said.
“We will have an effort that’s parallel to any other presidential effort we’ve had in Ohio.”
Trump’s small paid staff in the state is led by Bob Paduchik, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection race. It is filled out by a handful of operatives from second-tier Ohio Republican officeholders.
The senior staff members, who declined multiple requests for comment, recently announced the opening of 15 Ohio field offices. The sites will be staffed by the workhorses of the ground game: about 70 organizers hired by the state and national Republican parties, some of whom have been in the field for more than a year. Forty more organizers will be hired in the final stretch before Election Day, Borges said.
By contrast, Clinton had 180 organizers on the ground in Ohio as of August, also paid through the state and national Democratic parties, according to campaign filings. The Clinton campaign said it had opened 35 field offices.
For both the Republican and Democratic campaigns, it is the job of paid organizers to recruit and inspire volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors — the nuts and bolts of turning out voters.
While Kasich loyalists said many seasoned volunteers were sitting on the sidelines this year, Trump’s unconventional candidacy has also inspired a wave of newcomers.
But the growing pains of the effort were suggested by an e-mail from a regional coordinator for the combined campaign, published last month by the Cincinnati Enquirer. It showed the Trump team struggling to distinguish between supporters and opponents on the Republican central committee of Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. “If they are against us, we just need to know,” the coordinator wrote.
“What is going to be damaging to the Donald Trump campaign,” said Betty Montgomery, a former Republican attorney general of Ohio, “is the equivocation on the part of regular Republicans, those diehard Republicans who show up at conventions and work the polls.”