KEENE, N.H. — The battle for New Hampshire’s four electoral votes will be waged in a town-by-town struggle for voter turnout in the campaign’s waning days, pitting Hillary Clinton’s superior get-out-the-vote organization against Donald Trump’s unorganized but enthusiastic legions.
For both sides, it’s an urgent mission. Multiple polls in recent days show Trump has closed the polling gap with Clinton to a dead heat in New Hampshire, mirroring a tightening of the neck-and-neck race shown in many national surveys. Prevailing in New Hampshire could open up a path for Trump to get the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency. For Clinton, it would mean keeping a small but vital piece of her national firewall intact.
Trump rallied at a country club in Atkinson Friday, and he will be back in New Hampshire Monday night for a final rally in Manchester.
The Clinton campaign is working to counter the Trump surge with phone banks and troops of canvassers assembled in New Hampshire and in swing states across the country, aided by jolts of energy delivered by top surrogates and the candidate herself, who will be in Manchester Sunday.
“We don’t want to wake up on November 9th and think that we could have done more, because this is truly the future of our country,” Chelsea Clinton, wearing jeans and a faded T-shirt with the campaign’s “H” logo, told about 300 hard-core Clinton supporters in Keene Friday. Before she took the stage, a campaign staffer moved through the crowd asking people to sign up to help get-out-the-vote efforts.
“So please, anything you can do over the four days,” Chelsea said after about 15 minutes of praising her mother and laying out the stakes of the election. “Talk to your family, your friends, strangers alike about what’s at stake.’’
The close race means the unglamorous work of motivating supporters to vote could help Clinton keep her Republican rival at bay. But the ghost of Clinton’s painful primary loss in the state still haunts the campaign; her much vaunted ground troops couldn’t save her from losing the New Hampshire primary to Bernie Sanders by 22 points back in February.
By contrast, Trump overpowered the rest of the GOP field with next to no organization on the ground, scoring his first primary victory in New Hampshire, a win that helped propel him to the nomination.
Michael Dennehy, a seasoned GOP operative in the state, agrees that typically a ground game is critical in a tight race. But this year is different; Donald Trump is different, he said.
“I haven’t seen such passion probably since Ross Perot,” said Dennehy, referring to the billionaire third-party candidate who ran in 1992. “His [Trump] people are coming to the polls whether you like it or not. He has an advantage that Hillary Clinton does not have.”
That passion was on display at Trump’s Atkinson rally Friday, where about 1,000 people showed up waving signs, some yelling “Drain the Swamp!’’
“He’s representing a movement where people are tired of all the shenanigans with government. Quite frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t more people who are angry with what’s going on with Hillary,” said Rich Richmond, 65, of North Andover, before the rally started. “I’m surprised the popular vote and the electoral college is this close.”
Richmond took his own informal poll of the race on Halloween when he dressed up as Donald Trump, saying about 90 percent of the adults he encountered as he manned the door said they were voting for the New York businessman.
“Those who weren’t didn’t take any candy,” he said.
Eighty miles to the west of Atkinson, Chelsea Clinton’s smaller crowd in Keene was pumped up but also deeply anxious about the tightness of the race.
“It’s shocking. I’m a little disappointed in New Hampshire right now,” said Shari Osborn, a teacher at Keene State, who brought her 10-year-old daughter with her to see Chelsea Clinton. The pair are planning to canvass both days this weekend and again on Monday.
“I’m going to need an intervention when this is done,” said Philip Elmer, who drove up from Greenfield, Mass., with his fiancee, Margot Jones. He has driven all over to see various Clinton surrogates, stayed up late to watch the debates, then got up at 4 a.m. to read the news. “When this is over, I’m going to have to start worrying about my own problems.”
But first, Elmer will be back in Keene Monday to volunteer for Clinton. “Because every vote in New Hampshire is worth 16 in the rest of the country.”
Nationwide, the Clinton campaign says it has commitments for 750,000 volunteer shifts between Friday and Monday, for a total of more than 2 million hours devoted to encouraging turnout. As evidence of how strong their turnout machine is, Democrats point to the strong showing in states with early voting like Nevada, where Democrats are probably so far ahead in ballots cast in friendly precincts that analysts say Trump will have a hard time catching up on Election Day.
In New Hampshire, Secretary of State Bill Gardner predicts a record turnout of 738,000 voters.
The Clinton campaign, which is working hand-in-hand with campaigns for Democrats all the way down the ballot, has 27 field offices in New Hampshire staffed by more than 100 paid staff. For the last week’s big turnout push, the campaign has set up an additional 37 “staging locations,” from which canvassers operate three times a day.
Trump has outsourced much of his New Hampshire field operation to the Republican National Committee, as he has in other states. The RNC says it has built the largest turnout operation it has ever had in the state and says its workers have knocked on more than 1.4 million doors, 75 percent more than they had at this point in 2012.
The coordinated GOP effort in the state includes 10 offices and more than 280 paid staffers, according to the RNC, though the figure appears to include paid canvassers. Last week, an RNC spokeswoman told the Globe it had 50 paid staffers in the state.
The battle for New Hampshire will test whether Trump’s unconventional campaign strategy, focused heavily on rallies that pump up his core supporters, can prevail in a general election contest.
Trump has belittled the importance of building the sort of traditional ground game infrastructure that most professional presidential campaigns invest heavily in, said Whit Ayers, a veteran GOP consultant. “We are going to see who’s right.”
“The quality of the candidate decides elections, but the ground game can give you an extra point or two or three at the end that can make the difference in a close race,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican consultant who worked on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
And if all that sophisticated voter profiling isn’t working for you, volunteers can pick up campaign signs and try what Matt Mayberry, vice chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, urged.
“If you don’t want to make phone calls,’’ he said, “if you don’t want to knock on a door, grab some friends and just go to a local street corner.”