Now that he's all but certain to be the Republican challenging President Obama in November, Mitt Romney has begun to expand his operations. In the past week, he's named a top aide to head his vice presidential selection team, and his paid staff is expected to soon quadruple in size.
With the president's campaign well-staffed and spread across the map, it's become a game of catch-up for Romney.
There are Republican primary contests in five important states next Tuesday, but with Rick Santorum's departure from the race, they've gotten little attention.
"It's obviously time to move on to a campaign that's not focused on next week's primaries or caucuses as much as it's focused on what needs to happen between now and November," said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Romney's point man on Capitol Hill.
And leading Republicans do seem to be closing ranks around Romney. He won long-sought endorsements Tuesday from the top two elected Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels added his endorsement Wednesday.
Republican strategist Ed Rogers said it's time for Romney to strengthen his campaign's ground game in the states whose results in November are most uncertain.
"You'll probably start off with a universe of maybe a dozen or so states that are relevant, and that will probably narrow itself down to about half that number for the fall campaign that will make the difference in who wins or loses," Rogers said.
Hitting The Ground Running
The Romney campaign declined to comment on its reported expansion plans. Campaign finance records show that through February, the campaign had paid 108 people a total of $4 million. The Obama re-election effort, in contrast, reported paying nearly 600 people in 47 states some $15 million.
The Obama campaign is growing the largest grass-roots campaign in American history, said spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.
"Paid advertising doesn't deliver mobilization, doesn't deliver organization," she said. "It really just knocks down the other guy. But an organization on the ground really does deliver what we need on Election Day."
In late February, the Obama campaign opened a field office in Cincinnati, with Mayor Mark Mallory on hand to fire up a big crowd.
On that same wintry evening, across town, GOP activist Ashwin Corattiyil told a roomful of Republicans about the Team 2012 effort that he and his fellow Hamilton County Republicans were organizing. He said it would help the eventual Republican nominee hit the ground there running.
"We'll be like, here — boom — here's a list of 500, 600, how many ever people who we've trained, who we've identified by precincts, that are ready to help you," he said.
Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou was upbeat Wednesday about his Team 2012 effort.
"It's coming along very well," he said. "We've got several hundred people signed up to the program. We're going to do some training here in a couple of weeks, so it's going well."
'Time And Money To Catch Up'
The Romney campaign has yet to open an office in Hamilton County, while the Obama campaign opened its second office there two weeks ago. In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat to carry the county since 1964. County Democratic Chairman Tim Burke said trained volunteers are now poised to hit the streets.
"They will start literally their door-to-door operation this weekend," he said. "And we'll have — the Obama campaign will have — hundreds of people in the field in Hamilton County and frankly, throughout the state of Ohio this Saturday and Sunday, going door to door."
But that doesn't mean Romney's missed the boat in key battleground states, Republican consultant Mike Murphy said.
"I think there's a slight advantage in the field organization for the head start Obama has, but Romney's going to have the time and money to catch up in the Ohios and Virginias and Floridas," Murphy said. "And in some of those states — not all of them, but in some of them — there's already a pretty good existing Republican infrastructure, particularly in Florida. There's some repair work to be done in Ohio; it's pretty good in Virginia."
Those are all places where the Romney campaign is likely to keep getting bigger and more expensive.
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