Once a week, members of Mitt Romney’s political department gather in the campaign’s Boston headquarters and pretend that they are in Barack Obama’s war room. Such play-acting has been crucial to Romney’s tactics since he secured the Republican nomination this spring. Shortly after preparing their own vote goals—the state- and county-level accounting of registration, persuasion, and turnout targets that offer the basic strategic foundation of every campaign—Romney’s team drew up a set imagining what Obama’s internal projections would be. In their weekly meetings, they review Obama’s travels to identify the areas they think their rivals in Chicago are making a priority.
At the same time, a new data-science team within Romney’s strategy department sifts through reports on Obama’s broadcast buys as assembled by the Campaign Media Advertising Group. Romney staff code each of Obama’s ads according to their distinctive characteristics: content, style, the candidate attributes and characteristics they’re trying to drive—even the gender of the narrator and at what point the legally mandated “I approve this message” tag is inserted—along with the perceived demographic audience and the markets in which it appeared.
“We watch where the president goes,” says Dan Centinello, a Romney deputy political director who oversees the weekly meetings. “We’re trying to piece together what we think are his top ranks.”