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Progressive groups prepare to tear Trump to shreds

Clinton and Warren Hit Trump
Clinton and Warren Hit Trump 45:54

Donald Trump has banked on riding a wave of Twitter-generated free media attention, good and bad, all the way to the White House.

The formula worked in the Republican primary, but the early days of the general election have exposed Trump's struggles to build out a field operation - and one that's on par with Hillary Clinton's.

Unlike the Republican nominee, who has eschewed a traditional campaign and been skeptical of field work, Clinton has already placed paid staffers in every key battleground state to do the labor-intensive work of identifying and contacting voters to turn out in November.

Republicans are once again facing down an army of practiced field organizers dispatched by the entire Democratic coalition. While Trump continues his campaign-by-tweet and scrambles to hire staffers en masse, left-leaning outside groups like the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and NextGen Climate Action have been making phone calls and knocking on doors for months now.

Clinton vs. Trump 04:00

"When it comes to the ground game, the official campaign's field program will ultimately matter most because organizing has to be coordinated with the rest of the campaign and integrated with the overall data analytics model, digital strategies, message, paid media -- these things cannot happen in a silo," Jeremy Bird, the founding partner of 270 Strategies and the field director of Obama for America in 2012, told CBS News.

"But outside groups can play a critical role in determining the outcome of an election by helping to drive a narrative that contrasts two candidates experience, leadership, and competing visions for the nation and by turning out voters on issues that matter to them."

If there is one thing that Trump is very good at, it's stirring the collective ire of nearly every faction of the progressive movement, including some which Clinton herself has had trouble inspiring. While these groups advocate for varied policies, they all are extremely opposed to the businessman.

"We will be more active in this presidential election than in our entire 124-year history," Mike Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmentalist group, told CBS News.

"We see Donald Trump as a potential disaster for our climate and our air and water and public land so our members are more fired up than they have ever been during any presidential election," Brune added.

The Republican National Committee, which Trump is depending on to run his organizational efforts, has re-built a turnout operation that was badly outworked in 2012. And the RNC is largely alone in their efforts. Other conservative groups, most notably the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity, have stayed away from get-out-the-vote efforts for Trump, instead focusing on down-ballot efforts to help Republican House and Senate candidates.

Meanwhile, various interest groups across the Democratic spectrum have been working in tandem for over a decade, sharing data and honing the best techniques for contacting voters. And for the next four months, progressive outside groups with extensive voter files and targeting capabilities will email, snail mail, text, knock on doors to mobilize their core constituencies.

"Most people tune out candidate ads so this is one of the few ways to have a robust conversations with voters," Mike Podhorzer, political coordinator of the AFL-CIO, told CBS News. "Members expect to hear from us and rely on us. We're able to develop customized communication with people based on our conversations in the past that let us know whether they are interested in healthcare, communication and the minimum wage so when we talk to people, we are talking to them about what we know they care about."

The always-pivotal swing state of Ohio crystallizes Trump's deficiencies.

Clinton's Ohio team has already filled the role of state director and roles on their digital and communications teams, and the Ohio Victory Campaign, the organizing effort supporting Clinton and down-ballot Democrats, has placed more than 100 full time field staffers in the state, some of whom have been on the ground since last fall.

The Trump team, one the other hand, has almost no infrastructure in a state they lost in the primary to Ohio Governor John Kasich. Trump has five field staffers who have been on the ground since the primary but is largely relying on the RNC's support through the Ohio Republican Party to assemble and effectively run a team, but many well respected operatives in the state have no interest in signing on.

The campaign finally hired a former George W. Bush hand, Bob Paduchik, to serve as state director last week. Paduchik worked for Jeb Bush in the primary and adds an an air of legitimacy to the operation. But the RNC promised the party 250 staffers to help with organizing efforts, and they've so far only deployed 53 field organizers.

An RNC spokesperson told CBS News that they intend on having Ohio fully staffed by the convention but did not give a final number of field organizers they intend to have on the ground.

Poll: Clinton slightly ahead of Trump in four... 01:58

The Republican Leadership Initiative, the RNC's volunteer recruitment and training program, has 3,500 trained organizers from the program nationwide but it's unclear how many are volunteering in Ohio.

Democratic outside groups have hundreds of paid staffers that have been deployed or are en route to battleground states. Even more importantly, they boast robust volunteer networks that offer intensive volunteer training and are already entrenched in local communities.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political wing of the women's health group, has already knocked on 160,000 doors in Ohio and are currently testing various persuasion messages with voters, said Deirdre Schifeling, PPFA's national director of organizing and electoral campaigns.

"There is no path to victory for Trump without women and no organization is better positioned to reach women and persuade women than PPFA," she said.

PPFA will spend over $30 million dollars throughout Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Florida and Colorado this cycle and plan on knocking on four million doors - doubling what they did last cycle. The organization says they have polling in swing states and found that when female swing voters are introduced to Trump's positions, they move 14 points in Clinton's direction.

NextGen Climate Action -- billionaire Tom Steyer's green non-profit focused on fighting climate change -- recently announced a $25 million dollar millennial battleground program. They say they will soon have 170 paid field organizers and over 300 fellows on the ground in 7 states. They've also had organizers in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus since the primary and plan on being on over 50 campuses throughout Ohio by the fall.

One possible boon for Trump in a place like Ohio, however, is the sophisticated campaign operation of incumbent Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is in a tough re-election fight against Democrat Ted Strickland.

Portman's volunteer powered ground game has been in place since January of 2015 and is high-tech and hyper-local: they're targeting 30 different segments of voters with specific campaign literature through voter contact. The Senator himself, presenting a stark contrast to Trump, communicates and meets with his volunteers on a regular basis.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are taking a... 05:49

But a robust senate campaign is likely not enough to make Trump competitive in battleground states teeming with outside forces out for the kill.

The AFL-CIO, which endorsed Clinton last week, has a budget of $50 million dollars and plans on mounting very large operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Florida, coupled with mail, digital, and phone banking.

It's their organic grassroots work site program, wherein political coordinators educate their members of candidates' positions, that is perhaps most important to their turnout program.

"This is an incredibly powerful channel to be communicating with members, because when you have someone like Trump, who is trying to appeal to a demographic that is kind of overrepresented in union membership, having worksites understand, all the people understand, what's at stake in their jobs sort of flips the worksite," Podhorzer said.

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