On the University of Denver's main quad, amid a sea of food trucks, fleets of motorcycle cops, and indie concert acts, it looked more like a music festival than the backdrop for a wonky policy debate. In fact, it would seem at yesterday's political epicenter, campaigns had to strain to get their messages out over the din of 2,000 college students more interested in a concert than a live MSNBC broadcast. With so much potential to have the message lost in the noise, much of the ground messaging for the event fell on the campaign ground teams, where the Obama campaign outshined team Romney.
Obama's ground team, wearing flashy day-glow green shirts made its presence felt everywhere, with call and response chants over megaphones and signs. Oh, the signs. "Colorado for Obama" and "Women for Obama" signs appeared to be the most abundant, but far more noticable were the omnipresent 5×3 foot "Forward" signs, which plastered bars and student housing.
Ever-conscious of an opportunity to blanket the bi-partisan debate event with pro-Barack messenging, the Obama team found high visibility moments, like a live taping of MSNBC's Hardball, in which the volunteers held up the miniature billboards, drowning out a sprinkling of supporters waving Romney/Ryan signs and getting a little national airtime as well.
Somewhat perplexing was the lack of any real Romney volunteer teams (considering how crucial Colorado is looking in this election). Coming off the highway toward the University campus, Romney/Ryan lawn signs peppered the ground, and lined a few of the grassy areas near the college, but the team that put them there was largely out of sight. In our efforts to find the Romney ground team the most we could find were a smattering of Romney-supporting college students standing near the gate, awaiting the candidate's motorcade arrival near the debate site. And despite a healthy showing from some third-party "Fire Obama" signs, there was a clear sense that the campaign was focused on efforts to control the message from inside the debate hall (which, after last night's performance, seems to have paid off).
Perhaps it's unfair to single out a single moment of a months and even years long campaign to glean a larger truth, but outside the debate, it was clear the Obama team is steadfast in its guerrila efforts to sway younger swing voters. While the college crowd seemed less partisan and more interested in the general revelry of the day, it was clear that Obama organizers sought to use the opportunity to get out the brand in force, trotting out an ethusiastic and diverse body of volunteers to add to the event's chaos.
With the debate over and the pundit class calling a victory for Romney, the fanfare seems less important now. But for the Republican candidate, who seems to have a new lease on life for the remaining month of his campaign, it might behove the campaign to channel that energy into a ground game for these types of bipartisan political events. Or, at the very least, they could get some bigger signs.