Voters mark their ballots during voting in the first-in-the-nation presidential… (Matt Rourke / AP Photo )
Reporting from Manchester, N.H. — A central factor in Mitt Romney's impressive win in New Hampshire was a sophisticated and relentless voter contact program that locked in supporters early and turned them out to the polls.
Flush with cash as other rivals limped through the summer and fall, the Romney team poured resources into data: Operatives mined reams of consumer information — from the number of purchases voters made at Williams-Sonoma to their range of financial investments — to build a model that would allow them to find and identify potential supporters.
The micro-targeting program helped Romney secure victories in New Hampshire and Iowa and will become increasingly crucial as it moves on to the battlegrounds of Florida and South Carolina.
Romney's operatives paired the voter data with several hundred thousand paid and volunteer calls. They knew his sweet spot was among older, higher-income voters — those with annual household incomes of between $75,000 and $150,000 and with upscale interests like gourmet cooking. He was particularly appealing to older women and did best — as they knew from 2008 — among self-identified Republicans.
They also knew that Romney, a father of five sons, held particular appeal for voters whose consumer preferences showed a focus on children and family-centered activities. That knowledge guided the $1.3 million that Romney spent on television ads in New Hampshire, which focused heavily on his four-decade marriage and family values, as well as his business background.
Most important, the Romney team was able to weed out voters unlikely to support him — allowing it to steer away from socially conservative voters whose affinity for church or Bible interests, for example, suggested they might be a tougher target for a Mormon candidate.
In voter calls, live operators narrowed down the top interests of voters beyond jobs and the economy — following up with mail focused on those topics, including healthcare, illegal immigration and border security, or the power of labor.
From those calls, they also gleaned the second choice of undecided voters. If a voter's first and second choices in the Republican field were social conservatives such as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, for example, the team shifted that voter to the bottom of the list for a follow-up call and moved on to higher-priority targets.
Ultimately Romney operatives expanded a list of 5,000 solid supporters in New Hampshire from his 2008 campaign to more than 25,000 whom they believed they could rely on to vote in Tuesday's primary while also turning out friends, relatives and colleagues.
They also paid careful attention to geography — working to boost their tallies in the western half of the state, from the college town of Keene north to the Lebanon-Hanover area around Dartmouth College (areas where Jon Huntsman Jr. focused heavily in his bid to draw in independents).
In the final weeks, even though the polls showed Romney maintaining his double-digit lead over the other candidates, the campaign brought him back for repeated visits to the populous areas along the Massachusetts border.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton used extensive micro-targeting to guide their voter registration drives in 2008 — building on techniques championed by Republicans and former White House advisor Karl Rove first in 2000, then in 2004 to bring new GOP voters into the fold for President George W. Bush's reelection campaign.
In 2008, for example, Clinton won the California primary by targeting women across the state — who ultimately backed her 59% to 36% — particularly Latinas in Southern California and working women in Northern California.
Michael Meyers, one of Romney's micro-targeting gurus and the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based TargetPoint Consulting, noted that because more data are now collected online, the campaign has been able to cull up to 300 pieces of information about a voter, compared with fewer than two dozen in 2008.
The practice is a cost-effective way to reach high-value voters, especially in states where heavy retail politicking is impractical.
"The larger the state is, the harder it is to do effective voter contact — because there's more people to contact, identify and recontact," said Charlie Black, a strategist for 2008 GOP nominee John McCain who has informally offered advice to Romney from time to time this cycle. "The underdog candidates, even if they got hot and won a primary, don't have time to develop and install this kind of system in a matter of weeks.
"It's expensive. It's part of having a sophisticated national campaign that's well-funded," Black said, "and they're really the only such campaign out there this time."
In the end, the Romney team credited its successes to persistence — finding those undecided voters leaning their way and "just inundating them," said Romney's New Hampshire director, Jason McBride.
After Tuesday night, McBride said, there would be little time for rest. He and many on his team were headed straight for Florida.